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Putnam County senior Evan Kreiser (No. 33) takes the ball to the basket as Roanoke-Benson’s Ryan Fehr defends during the Panthers’ victory Wednesday in Colfax. Kreiser, who had a team-high 18 points along with four rebounds and three steals, and the Panthers (23-8) advance to face Heyworth (22-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in the sectional title game. Putnam County is looking for its first sectional championship since it went to state in 2007. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
COLFAX — The Class 1A Ridgeview Sectional semifinal never had a clear cut favorite during the 32 minutes of play, but the Putnam County boys basketball team did what it needed to down the stretch to pull away from Roanoke-Benson.
Senior Harold Fay went 6-of-8 from the free throw line and classmate Evan Kreiser went 6-of-9 in the last three minutes to help the Panthers win 48-41 Wednesday in Colfax.
The semifinal win puts the Panthers in the sectional title game against Heyworth at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It seemed like we were able to do just enough,” Putnam County coach Josh Nauman said. “I don’t remember them ever taking a lead after real early in the game, but we never had it up more than (six) points.
“It was just kind of hanging around there the whole time. It was a typical sectional game. It was back and forth. It was tight. The teams were playing hard and we made enough plays at the end to get it done.”
The made free throws were a change from the first half of the game as PC was 2-of-9 and the Rockets were 1-of-7. The Panthers finished shooting 16-of-30 from the charity stripe, while R-B shot 4-of-11.
Both squads played to their advantages as Putnam County drove the ball inside and looked to kick it out to shooters and the Rockets pounded the glass — R-B won the rebounding battle 41-27 — and looked for its talented post players to score inside.
However, neither team could gain much ground.
The Panthers (23-8) led 10-8 after the first quarter, 22-18 after the second and 32-28 after three quarters.
“We just had to really box out today because they were a lot bigger than us and we knew coming in that it was going to be a tough and physical game,” said Kreiser, who scored a game-high 18 points. “That’s what we had to work on. “We started off a little slow. Toward the end, like we usually do, we came out and played a lot tougher than the first half.”
Sophomore Alec Veverka led PC with nine rebounds, while senior Sam Garland grabbed five.
Roanoke-Benson junior Klay Nafziger hauled in 18 boards to go with his 10 points for a double-double and senior Michael Doss scored a team-high 15 points.
“Our keys to every game are win the battle at the free throw line, out-rebound your opponent and limit turnovers,” R-B coach Abe Zeller said. “We had 16 (turnovers). That’s too many for a sectional game. We didn’t put the ball in the hole down the stretch. We were down three, had an opportunity to hit a bunny wide-open and we missed that.
“Our guys worked hard. Credit Putnam County for getting stops when they needed them and hitting shots when they needed to.”
The Rockets (22-10) cut the PC lead to 36-34 with 3:52 remaining in the game, but the Panthers scored the next three points on Fay free throws.
Every time R-B looked like it was going to steal the game, PC had an answer whether it was a defensive stop or a free throw.
Making plays down the stretch allowed the Panthers to win their first sectional game since 2008, but they’re looking for the program’s first sectional title since 2007.
“We’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm. This is one of our goals. We’re going to play hard — that’s all you can ask for,” said Fay, who scored 15 points. “I think we’ve hunkered down a little bit and got a little more focused in practice in everything we’re doing. I definitely can see that in our team. It’s a good thing to show that we’re really focused on our goals. “
Wednesday’s win gives PC a 2-1 season series lead against Roanoke-Benson and puts the Panthers against an opponent they haven’t played yet in Heyworth (22-7).
“We’re excited and ready to play them. Roanoke-Benson beat Heyworth by 10 (points) about a week or two ago,” Nauman said. “Heyworth is a good team. Obviously, they won big (81-57 against Mt. Pulaski in Tuesday’s semifinal). We’ll come out, get ready for them and be ready to go Friday.”