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Eagles want to atone for past regional loss

EAGLES: Oak Hill’s Tyce Frank bring the ball up the floor in the Golden Eagles opening sectional game against Manchester. Oak Hill meets Lapel around noon on Saturday in the second semifinal of the Class 2A Lapel Regional.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

MIER — David Arens admits he still hasn’t shaken Oak Hill’s bitter loss to Lapel in the 2016 Class 2A boys’ basketball regional final.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” Arens said following Wednesday’s practice. “I always have nightmares about it in my sleep ... and it’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Arens was on the floor when Lapel hit a late shot and pulled out a 52-51 victory over the Golden Eagles on its home floor. The Bulldogs went on to win the 2A state title, making it an even more bitter pill for the Eagles to swallow.

Eighth-ranked Oak Hill (22-5) has a chance for redemption when it meets unranked Lapel (14-12) at around noon Saturday, and once again the Bulldogs will have the home court advantage. Top-ranked Covington (23-1) plays No. 9 Tipton (20-4) in the first game at 10:30 a.m.

The championship game is 8 p.m. Admission is $7 for session or $10 for both rounds.

Eagles center Caleb Middlesworth also remembers the loss but wants to channel those emotions to obtain a different outcome.

“Oh, man, it was a rough, emotional day,” Middlesworth said. “We had a good win in the first game (against Covington) and then just came up a point short. You got to move on from those losses, but it’s in the back of your head.

“Playing Lapel at Lapel is a big deal, and definitely, it’s going to be a great atmosphere. But we’re going in there to get work done.”

Lapel might not have been expected to advance but hosted a sectional and outlasted defending 2A state champion Frankton 67-65 in overtime to win the championship. Frankton was ranked fourth in 2A and defeated Oak Hill 65-57 on Dec. 15.

“It did not matter who won that game,” Oak Hill coach Kevin Renbarger said. “I feel like we have unfinished business with both teams. We’ve got three or four people on this team who remember the last time they walked off that (Lapel) floor and it was a very unhappy memory.

“(Lapel) has some people on that team who are still playing and it should add to the energy in that gym (Saturday),” Renbarger added.

Bulldogs senior guard Austin Lyons was a key component for the 2016 state champs and he is the second-leading scorer at 15.8 points. He fills a stat sheet with 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Lyons also connects on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts (51-of-113).

Preston Scott was a starting forward on the 2016 state championship team as a sophomore and provides 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds.  Luke Richardson played 13 games as a freshman and two years later the 6-foot-5 post has blossomed into a dominant inside player, averaging 20.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.

“Luke Richardson is a very good post player can step out and shoot the ‘3’ (30-of-87 for 34 percent), and Lyons can shoot the ‘3’ on a consistent basis and then drive the ball to the basket and has some height (6-foot-3) and length to him,” Renbarger said. “(Lapel coach Jimmie Howell) surrounds them with a bunch of people who know their roles and won’t try to do too much.”

Caleb Bloom filled a reserve role for the state champs and this season averages 5.7 points and shoots 45 percent from 3-point range (30-of-67). Three-pointers are a big part of the Bulldogs offense and they make 39 percent from behind the arc (144-of-366).

Oak Hill has taken an identical number of ‘3s’ and made one more basket. The Eagles set the single-game record for 3-point makes with 13 (out of 23 attempts) in their 68-27 sectional championship victory over Lewis Cass with Arens (six) and Tyce Frank (five) the main catalysts.

Arens has been particularly hot from 3-point distance of late and is the most prolific shooter at 38-of-92 for 41 percent. Middlesworth, Frank and Spencer Ballinger each has 26 makes and Konnor Cabe has 17.

“I have just been feeling it lately in practice and in warmups and it’s just about having a good mindset,” Arens said of his 3-point shooting.

Oak Hill should collectively have a good mindset, even a confident one, after winning its last 10 games. Defense has been a major reason behind its success, and opponents have averaged just 41.2 points during the win streak.

“We are exactly where we need to be at this time of the season,” Renbarger said. “We are playing our best basketball and been doing it for about a month. If we play like we did last week we’ll be just fine.”

Middlesworth, Oak Hill’s 6-8 center, leads the team at 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds entering the regional tournament, followed by Ballinger at 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds, Arens at 10.8 points and Frank at 10.6 points and 5.8 assists.

“As a team, our goal this year was to have a tough schedule to prepare us for a deep tournament run,” Middlesworth said. “All the games we have played this season have amounted to hopefully a good tournament run. We are going in there and put two good games together.”