By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — As if Caleb South needed more motivation heading into Saturday’s sectional final, his mother Laura gave him some first thing in the morning.
“My mom challenged me before this game,” the Bethel junior said. “Last year in the sectional final, I had one of my best games ever. I had 34 (points) against West Liberty-Salem. Today I woke up and she said ‘Are you excited?’ I was like, ‘yeah, but we’ve been here before.’ She said, ’ but you have pressure, because you want to play better than you did last year.’ That was my mindset going into today, to dominate and play better than I did last year.”
In topping his own performance, he and the Bees all left themselves a tough act to follow.
South was unstoppable, nearing the single-game school record by pouring in a game-high 46 points from every possible angle, the Bees collectively torched the nets and hit 14 3-pointers as a team and second-seeded Bethel boys basketball team (21-3) lit up No. 8 Anna in a 101-81 victory in the Division III sectional final Saturday at Butler’s Student Activities Center, the team’s second straight sectional title.
South had 21 points by halftime, and once he discovered that the Rocket defense was powerless to stop him, it was all over. Drives to the basket, and-ones, pull-up 3s, fadeaway jumpers — everything that the Bethel point guard shot seemed to go down. And with the Rockets doing everything they could to at least keep up with the Bees’ torrid pace, South dropped home 15 of his points in the first 5:30 of the fourth quarter to put the game away.
When asked at what point in the game he felt South figured out that Anna could not stop him, Bethel coach Brett Kopp had the perfect answer.
“When he walked on the floor?” the Bees’ second-year coach said. “He’s really confident in his abilities. They’ve got to prove to him that they can stop him, and they obviously didn’t do that. I was expecting them to do something different in terms of a box-and-one — but they didn’t, and we just took advantage of it.”
In fact, the only thing that kept South from reaching the school record for points in a game — 49 by Matt Witt — ended up being the Bees’ desire to not run up the score once the game was officially in hand.
“When I got to 40, I was like, I’m breaking Matt Witt’s record right now,” South said with a laugh when asked if the record ever entered his mind. “But, I mean, we blew them out, and our bench guys got to come in and get some minutes, which was good. I see the bigger picture.”
From the game’s start, everyone could see exactly where the game was headed.
Bethel won the opening tip, and right away Ian Anderson threw a backdoor lob to Tyler Terry, who threw down an alley-oop dunk with one hand — and the Bees never lost the lead from there.
“Ian throws great lobs. I initially thought that one was high, but Tyler went up and got it,” Kopp said. “We put it in based on what they were doing, so we knew it would be there. It was a great pass and a great dunk.”
“That’s just a testament to everyone being ready,” South said. “Terry started out the game with that dunk, and it really got the game started. Everyone was like this is our game. We’re going to win this sectional final.”
After that, the Bees were off to the races.
Bethel scored the game’s first six points and led 15-3 after a three-point play by South before Anna began to fight back. The Rockets got back to within eight at 20-12, but Daniel Hagan and Jacob Evans both hit 3s, with Evans’ coming right before the buzzer to give the Bees a 26-13 lead after one.
“That’s what we love,” South said. “When we struggle, it’s when we get away from a game like that. We like playing up and down, and that’s what we really emphasized in this game, pushing the ball.”
Anna was able to keep pace, though, falling behind by as many as 17 in the second quarter but only trailing by 12 at 47-35 at halftime. But Ryan Rose hit three of his seven 3-pointers in the third quarter, including one at the buzzer to put Bethel up 72-53 heading into the fourth.
“We shot it tonight like I thought was possible all year long,” Kopp said. “It’s pretty impressive to score 101 points in a sectional final — but we also didn’t guard anybody. Those kids know me, they know I nitpick. I want to score 100, but I also want to keep them to 35. That’s a coach’s philosophy — I want perfection. We strive and we strive and we strive.
“But hey, we’re moving on. Survive and advance. Or maybe shoot the lights out and advance.”
Rose hit yet another 3 to make it a 20-point game at 75-55 early in the fourth, and the Rockets didn’t get closer than 17 the rest of the way. Once the Bees went up 90-70 on an Evans 3, South piled up eight quick points, scoring a transition layup, a three-point play on a tough drive and a fadeaway 3 to make the score 98-76. Anna’s Nathan Frilling hit his fifth 3 of the game, but Daniel Hagan answered with a drive and drew a foul with 2:32 to play, and after he hit the free throw the Bees’ starters were able to rest for the remainder of the game.
After South’s 46, Rose added 25 points and Terry had 10 points and six rebounds as the Bees had three in double figures. Evans had six points and six rebounds, Hagen added six points, Jesse Nickell scored four, Anderson had two points, four rebounds and five assists and Kendal James had two points.
Austin Fost led the Rockets with 19 points and five rebounds off the bench, Frilling scored 18 points and Griffen Doseck scored all 15 of his points in the second half after struggling with foul trouble and added eight rebounds. Riley Huelskamp had seven points, Bart Bixler scored five, Wyatt Bensman and Joel Cathcart both scored four and Grant Hoehne had two.
Now the Bees will face a familiar opponent in Thursday’s district final at UD Arena. Bethel will take on Roger Bacon, which defeated the Bees in the Flyin’ to the Hoop tournament earlier this season.
“They won the region last year, they’re one of the top teams in the state, they’ve got really good athletes and they’ve got a coach that just won his 200th game,” Kopp said. “We’ve got to focus and buckle down on the defensive end. We’re going to learn from the first game and make adjustments and give them our best shot.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.