Updated Fri, Mar 15, 2013 2:13 am
After defeating Miami Trace in the District Finals last Thursday, the Athens Bulldogs reached the Regional Semifinals for the first time since 1965 to face a familiar foe in their former SEOAL rival, the Warren Warriors.
The Bulldogs forced overtime, but ultimately did not have enough left in the tank and fell to the Warriors 74-69.
With a clearly larger Warren fan presence, the Warriors came out hot, scoring 18 points in the first quarter alone. The Athens offense played toe-to-toe with the Warriors for the majority of the quarter, but once the Warrior defense settled in, any sort of Bulldog offense was stifled for a stretch including half of the second quarter as well.
Athens fell into a double-digit hole, but Joe Burrow and the Bulldogs refused to say die. The Bulldogs took advantage of open shots and pulled within one possession at halftime, trailing the Warriors 24-21.
Carrying the momentum into the second half, the Bulldogs jumped all over the Warriors, taking their own lead into double-digits. Joe Burrow fueled the Athens offense all night, scoring on six three-point buckets to continue to stretch the Bulldog lead. Ibi Watson started off cold, but physical play put him on the line where he converted on nine of eleven attempts.
Athens seemed to be cruising to the Regional Finals, but Warren had a response of their own in store. The Warriors implemented a full-court press and forced multiple Athens turnovers in the late stages of the fourth quarter to give their offense the opportunity to dig out of their hole. Warrior guard Evan French led the Warren attack with a game-high 29 points and accurate shooting when his team needed him.
“I give all of the credit to my teammates,” French said. “They freed me up and gave me the opportunities.”
Warren tied the game at 62-62 with under a minute left in regulation and left Athens with possession for the remaining time. Athens wound the clock down to nine seconds and called a timeout, but a sloppy inbound prevented the Bulldogs from getting a decent look for the final shot, sending the teams into a four minute overtime period.
Once in the overtime, the Warren shooters took the game. Athens fouls put the Warriors on the free throw stripe, where they shot an impressive 75 percent.
Warren outscored the Bulldogs 12-7 in the overtime, leading them into a Regional Final matchup with the New Philadelphia Quakers (19-7). Burrow finished with 28 points and nine rebounds and teammate Ibi Watson tallied 22 points himself. Warren’s Evan French pulled down six rebounds along with his 29 points, while Reese Patton and Dylan Leffingwell finished with 14 and 13 points respectively.
A win in the Regional Final sends the winner the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus for the State Final Four. New Philadelphia, a big winner in the first game against St. Clairsville, should provide a great challenge for the one-loss Warriors, but Coach Blane Maddox hopes that their momentum will carry them through.
“We know that they’re big, they’re well-coached, and they’re patient,” Maddox said. “They like to spread the floor and use those two twin towers that they have.”