By John Bombatch
XENIA —Good teams find ways to win, and Xenia Christian is a very good team.
The Ambassadors trailed by 10 points with four minutes left to play, but battled back to send Tuesday’s non-conference game with host Xenia into overtime before escaping with a 68-66 overtime win.
But Xenia had ‘em on the ropes.
It was a scenario Xenia coach Kyle Gray has been working toward all season long: His Buccaneers were on a roll, Cora Stevens was raining three’s from seemingly everywhere and Xenia (1-9) had a 10-point lead — 58-48 — over once-defeated Xenia Christian (9-1) with slightly less than five minutes left to play in regulation.
Then Stevens fouled out of the game with 4:46 left in the final quarter. Xenia Christian went on an 11-2 run the rest of the way, and the Ambassadors’ Rachel Sweeney drained a 3-pointer from the left side with 1:30 left in the game to knot things up at 60-60.
With Stevens cheering from the sideline, Xenia could never regain the lead in overtime. Instead, Sweeney swished a pair of free throws with 39.1 seconds left to earn the Ambassadors the win. Xenia had four shots at the basket in the game’s final 20 seconds, but Sweeney ended it with her twelfth rebound of the game.
“I’d first like to give a lot of credit to Xenia and the way they played. Their coach did a great job in preparing them for us and, in the league that they play in, I knew they were going to be tough,” Xenia Christian coach Mark Combs said. “We really haven’t played a game that close. One of the things you’d like to see from your team is whether they have the resiliency, whether they can fight back when things are not going their way. And I think my kids demonstrated that great ability to fight and get back in the game. … I’m very very proud of them.”
Sweeney led all scorers with 26 points, and 14 of those came in the second half and OT period. She was a perfect 4-for-4 from the foul line in overtime. Fellow Ambassador Katie Riddle had 10 points in the first half (Xenia led 38-30 at the break), and she finished with 23. Despite playing most of the second half with four fouls, Grace Dean finished with eight points, while Ari Nelson, Emily Riddle and Olivia Combs combined for 11.
Xenia’s Stevens came off the bench to rain 3-pointers with ease. She sandwiched a two-point second quarter score around three 3-pointers in the first quarter, then three more treys in the fourth period, before having to exit with five fouls and a team-high 20 points.
A trio of starting Buccaneers finished in double-figure scoring as well. Jada Wallace scored 14 points, Infiniti Carr had 13 and Bre Burnette added 12.
“We’ve spent so much time in working on our flaws, and figuring out how to get to a better spot, that we haven’t practiced much on how to finish out a game, when you’re up 10 with four minutes left to play. So I guess in the end, that falls on me,” Xenia coach Kyle Gray said. “Their kids played great. They’re very fundamentally sound. We tried to do some good things, we try to make the right plays and the right pass, but we just couldn’t finish tonight. But we’re getting there.
“And those are the things that good teams like Xenia Christian are able to do.”
Xenia’s next game will be Tuesday, Dec. 29 when they’ll host Wilmington. The junior varsity game tips off at 4:30 p.m. with varsity action starting at 6 p.m. Xenia Christian doesn’t have another game until next year. The Ambassadors host Jefferson on Jan. 2.