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Boys basketball: 2nd-half surge powers Sterling past Ottawa in Class 3A regional semifinal

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STERLING – It was an uncharacteristically cold shooting night for Sterling on Wednesday against Ottawa in the Class 3A Sterling Regional semifinal at Musgrove Fieldhouse.

But the Golden Warriors quickly weathered the storm.

After picking up the energy in the second quarter, Sterling rolled to a 58-37 win over the Pirates. The second-seeded Golden Warriors will face No. 5 La Salle-Peru at 7 p.m. Friday in the regional final.

“We tend to underestimate teams. To understand that no one wants to go home, and preaching that to everyone, the coaches saying that, it really turned us up,” Sterling senior guard Andre Klaver said. “If Ottawa doesn’t want to go home, we can’t just come out here and lay an egg.”

Ottawa (12-15) had the upper hand early in the first quarter, leading 8-4 with 3:49 remaining after 3-pointers by juniors Tristan Finley and Evan Snook and a putback by senior Cooper Knoll.

But Sterling (24-8) didn’t trail for long. Klaver sparked a 9-0 run just past the three-minute mark, dishing to junior forward Maddux Osborn for a fast-break layup. Senior forward Lucas Austin then made all three free throws after drawing a 3-point foul, Klaver drove from the wing for a layup and Austin sank a putback for a 13-8 lead with 11 seconds left.

A Finley free throw made it 13-9 by the end of the first quarter.

Sterling started the game 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished 6 for 23 from deep.

“We just didn’t come out with intensity. We were missing shots, we didn’t bring the energy, and we needed to on defense,” Austin said. “But in the second half, our defense led to our offense, so that’s where we got stops and we got energetic again.”

The Golden Warriors started to pull away in the second quarter with a 15-11 run. Klaver scored 10 points during that stretch, sinking two layups before hitting the first two 3-pointers of the game for Sterling in the last four minutes.

Sterling led 28-20 at halftime and 41-27 after three quarters.

“[Andre’s 3s] helped a lot, but the biggest thing was the energy from our defense carried over to offense,” Austin said. “I think at one point we had three kills, which is three stops in a row, so those consecutive stops really helped us get out in transition, make layups, and gave us the confidence to make wide-open shots.”

Ottawa rallied to within 32-27 on senior Drake Kaufman’s 3 with 4:11 left in the third, but Sterling quickly found its counterpunch.

Klaver grabbed a steal and threw a near fullcourt pass to junior guard Jimmy Wadsworth for a fast break layup with 3:15 remaining, then junior guard Nico Battaglia hit a left-corner 3 off junior guard Kaedon Phillips’ drive-and-kick, and Klaver hit a free throw and then finished off a fast break layup with an assist from Wadsworth for the 41-27 lead.

“For the better part of three quarters, we kept them out of transition. When we were able to set our defense, I thought we guarded pretty well in the halfcourt,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “Some of their perimeter players challenged some of our shots at the rim, and we weren’t able to finish a few things. Then, eventually, they got a few transition buckets in the fourth quarter, and it just made things difficult on us.”

The Golden Warriors closed the game with a 17-10 run.

Klaver scored a game-high 27 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished three assists. Austin totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds, Battaglia tallied seven points, two rebounds and two assists, and Osborn added four points, seven rebounds and four blocks for the Golden Warriors.

For Ottawa, Knoll compiled 11 points and nine rebounds, Snook supplied nine points, seven rebounds and three steals, and senior Keevon Peterson added seven points and four rebounds.

Ottawa's Tristan Finley brings the ball up against Sterling's Andre Klaver during Sterling’s 3A Regional semifinal game Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Sterling High School.

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