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Eagles roll to big victory over Blackford

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

MIER — A marquee matchup between the Oak Hill and Blackford boys’ basketball teams lost much of its luster when Bruins freshman phenom Luke Brown broke his leg.

However, that didn’t stop the Golden Eagles from putting on a show before a nearly capacity crowd Friday evening and rolled to a 94-31 victory over the undermanned Bruins.

Oak Hill (15-5) won its third straight while Blackford (11-7) lost for the third time in four games since losing Brown and his 27.8-point average for the season.

“We always want to play teams at their best,” said Oak Hill forward Spencer Ballinger, who scored a career-high 36 points. “We don’t want to say ‘what if’ but things like (Brown’s injury) happens.”

While the Bruins took a quick 3-0 lead on Brandon Stroble’s 3-pointer, the Eagles responded with nine straight points and continued to pile on, racing out to a 27-6 lead at the first break. It didn’t get any better for the Bruins in the second when they scored just three points and Oak Hill led 48-9 at halftime.

Caleb Middlesworth, the Eagles’ 6-foot-8 post standout, scored his 1,000th career point after a lob pass from Ballinger just 29 seconds into the second half. Ballinger finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 field goal shooting that included 2-of-3 from 3-point range and did not play the fourth quarter.

“It’s a testament to the team and all the hard work we put in,” Ballinger said of his milestone, preferring to take away attention from himself.

Brown, a 5-11 guard with impressive ballhandling skills and shooting range, certainly would have made it a more interesting game with his presence, Eagles coach Kevin Renbarger said.

“I wanted him to play,” Renbarger said. “It would have been an extreme challenge to defend him and he adds an element that they are missing, an additional ballhandler and scorer and other things. I’m very disappointed he didn’t get to play and we wish him nothing but the best in his recovery.”

Even with Brown, the Bruins would have needed much more to slow down the Eagles on this particular evening. Ballinger and Middlesworth spearheaded an offense that shot a sizzling 39-of-58 from the floor for 67 percent and they weren’t all layups. The Eagles were a most impressive 9-of-13 from 3-point range for 69 percent with five players getting in the act.

Ballinger, who recently committed to play basketball at Huntington University, was 15-of-18 from the field and knocked down all five 3-point attempts. He was unstoppable in the third quarter with 18 points on a mix of layups and drives and a pair of 3-point baskets.

“Knowing they were a little bit weaker on the floor boosted my confidence a little bit and I think that got me rolling,” Ballinger said. “We’re playing a lot better now and everybody seems to be knowing their role now and we’re getting a nice flow right now. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

Ballinger’s 36 points are the most scored by a player in the 13 years Renbarger has coached the team, surpassing David Arens’ 35-point effort last year at Southwood. Arens had 13 points against the Bruins.

Alan Frank holds the all-time single game scoring record with 44 points during the 1969-70 season.

Although Tyce Frank wasn’t looking to shoot, the senior guard was setting up others and dished out nine assists — five in the opening quarter — and scored six points.

“I was really happy with the execution and the comfort in which we played,” Renbarger said. “Everything came a little bit more easy this evening and i felt execution-wise we were very sharp.

“The passing was crisp and we had limited turnovers and lots and lots of open shots,” he added. “I was very pleased with the execution.”

Added Middlesworth: “We’ve put together good practices the last couple days and are putting quarters together and slowly but surely we’ll get there.”

J.D. Hoover led Blackford with 16 points and seven rebounds and Stroble had 11 points.

Oak Hill hosts Tipton on Tuesday.