VANDALIA, Ohio – Yacco Nelson didn’t start for Taft Wednesday night.
The Taft senior was a big finisher for the Senators, helping the team outlast Anna 62-57 in overtime in a Division III boys basketball regional semifinal at Butler High School.
Taft, 15-4 overall, will play either Springfield Shawnee or Versailles in the regional final 4 p.m. Saturday at Butler.
“It’s all about the team,” Nelson said. “We’ve been telling each other since the summer, when stuff gets hard, we don’t fall apart. We try to keep coming back together. Everybody kept talking to each other. When I started crying, my boys kept my head up.”
Taft sophomore Rayvon Griffith led the way with 28 points.
Nelson, who averages eight points per game, scored 18, including six straight Senator points overlapping the end of regulation and the extra session.
Nelson, a 6-foot-4 forward, averages eight points per game and got more minutes than usual vs. Anna’s small lineup. The Rockets started five guards and had no true post players, limiting the playing time for starting center JaMarco Berry, a 6-foot-6 big man.
“Besides Rayvon, he’s our best big guy but I can’t give up twos for threes,” said Taft head coach DeMarco Bradley. “Anna’s a good team. They have a lot of tradition like we do. Everybody on their team can shoot the ball. Yacco Nelson had to go with it. He played more minutes tonight than he probably had all year. He had to step up and guard those guards.”
Nelson said: “We knew the game plan. It was perfect. We knew we would have mismatches with Ray and I on the high-low. We knew we could go inside. It was a big role for me. I love my big guys but I knew this would be a guard game, so I knew I really had to step up.”
Taft led 16-14 after one period and led by double digits three times after that. Anna tied the game at 49 with three minutes to go in regulation.
Nelson scored on a put-back to give Taft the lead, then scored a layup on an assist from sophomore Griffith.
Anna scored twice in the final minute as the Senators had trouble keeping the ball, turning the ball over and committing two offensive fouls. The Rockets missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the regulation win.
Anna scored the first four points of overtime to lead 57-53. Nelson scored on a put-back to make it 57-55.
Senior Brandon Miles scored a layup and got fouled, giving Taft the lead for good with the ensuing free throw with 1:15 to play, and Taft led 58-57. Junior Brandon Cromer hit both ends of a one-and-one bonus with 53 seconds to play to make it 60-57.
The Senators defense went to work after that. Cromer blocked a shot. Senior Dylan Britten recorded a steal, then later Taft stole an inbounds pass. Griffith hit two free throws with 23 seconds left to clinch the win.
Griffith, Taft’s superstar sophomore and newly crowned Southwest District DIII player of the year, scored 20 of his 28 points in the first half. He had 14 of Taft’s first 20 points, including two emphatic dunks, then he scored Taft’s last six points of the half to give the Senators a 33-25 lead.
In between, Griffith blocked shots, got rebounds and dished out assists.
“He can play any position,” Bradley said. “He can guard them all. The kid can play, one through five. He’s a team leader. He refused to lose today.”
Griffith’s last field goal of the game gave Taft a 43-32 lead in the third quarter. Anna hit four 3-pointers in a row, one each by four different players, during a 12-2 run that cut the lead to one, 45-44, entering the fourth.
Ben Kovacs and McKane Finkenbine led the Rockets with 17 points apiece.