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Multiple Teams · Pressure-packed win: Oberlin’s defense puts clamps on Rittman in district semifinal

WOOSTER — Monday was all about pressure for the Oberlin Phoenix.

Not any pressure Oberlin might have felt as defending Division III district champs, but rather the pressure the Phoenix inflicted on its opponent.

Oberlin put on a defensive clinic in rolling to a 55-28 district semifinal win over Rittman at Wooster High School, jumping out to a big lead and never letting the Indians get into any kind of rhythm.

Top-seeded Oberlin (19-5) moves on to Friday’s 7 p.m. district final against the winner of tonight’s Northwestern-Orrville game. Rittman bows out at 17-8.

“That was the most intense pressure defense we’ve seen all year,” Indians coach Chad Bever said. “We did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of our style of play tonight, missed a lot of layups, rushed a lot of shots. We weren’t moving on offense and I think their pressure got to us.”

Five of Rittman’s 11 turnovers came in the first quarter when Oberlin grabbed a 21-5 lead.

The Indians cut the lead to single digits twice, but it never seemed like the Phoenix didn’t have things well under control.

Donald Johnson, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, said his team executed its defensive game plan perfectly. The Phoenix held third-seeded Rittman to just 22.9 percent shooting and just a single point in the fourth quarter.

“Scouting them, we knew we had to sit down and keep the guy in front of us,” he said. “We talked and called out screens. They have a couple of good shooters we knew we had to sit down on and make sure we kept our hands up.”

Indians point guard William Swartz was held to just five points on 2-of-13 shooting while off guard Connor Stuart hit just two of the seven shots he took,

“We’ve been here before and we know what it takes,” Johnson said. “This year we’ve been working on getting a lead, holding it and scoring when we want to and how we want to. We build a lead and control the game, and with a senior-heavy team and the juniors that have been here before we can do that pretty good.”

Johnson’s biggest block came late in the first half and was a game-changer.

Rittman had trimmed the Phoenix lead to 27-18 and, with the first-half clock ticking down inside 30 seconds, had a chance to cut it to seven points when Kaleb Bauman found himself with the ball alone under the Oberlin basket.

Johnson swooped in out of nowhere and blocked the shot. The ball bounced to Dave Payne, who raced to the other end, drew the defense to him and kicked it out to Justin Smith for a 3-pointer from the left wing.

It hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

“That was crucial,” Oberlin coach Kurt Russell said of the five-point swing that gave the Phoenix a 30-18 halftime lead. “I think the whole team has confidence and we trust one another. We know we’re going to make mistakes, but one thing about this team is that we really don’t put our head down. We continue to battle.”

Johnson said he was just trying to make up for one of the few defensive mistakes he made on the night.

“I got beat and had to recover,” he said. “I just kept playing hard.”

Oberlin, which lost in the regional semifinals last season, is looking to take things one step further this year.

“This team is built for this run,” Russell said. “The first game we played, against Norwayne, we started off fast. I think the kids are realizing that tournament time, if you lose you go home. One of our major problems this year has been starting off really, really slow. We made an effort to really start fast.”

Smith, who had 14 points, five rebounds and four steals, said his team has one goal.

“We lost the biggest game of our life because we didn’t control the ball,” he said of last year’s 87-80 double-overtime loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the regionals. “Coming in on Friday we know we have to take care of it, we know what we have to take care of to get back to where we have to get. That’s what we’re going to come in and do.”

Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or

Oberlin 55, Rittman 28

RITTMAN (28): William Swartz 2-1-5, Connor Stuart 2-0-6, David Zuchak 4-0-8, Kaleb Bauman 1-1-4, Todd Ramsur 2-0-5, Jacob Stuart 0-0-0, Evan Ringer 0-0-0. Totals 11-2-28.

OBERLIN (55): Dave Payne 1-0-3, Justin Smith 5-2-14, Caleb Hughley 2-1-5, Kurt Russell Jr. 0-0-0, Donald Johnson 7-0-14, Daunte Bowen’s 0-0-0, Zion Hicks 3-1-8, Devan Yarber 0-8-8, Mark Robinson Jr. 1-1-3. Totals 19-13-55.

Rittman    5 13   9   1 — 28

Oberlin   21   8 12 13 — 55

Three-point goals: Rittman 4-19 (C. Stuart 2, Bauman, Ramsur), Oberlin 4-11 (Smith 2, Payne, Hicks. Field goals: Rittman 11-48 (22.9 percent), Oberlin 19-35 (54.2 percent). Free throws: Rittman 2-5 (40 percent), Oberlin 13-19 (68.4 percent). Rebounds: Rittman 18 (Swartz 4), Oberlin 35 (Johnson 10). Turnovers: Rittman 11, Oberlin 15. Total fouls: Rittman 14, Oberlin 6.