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Ava Bears Wrap Up Season in District Championship Game; Finish at 18-10

After fighting their way into the finals of the district tournament last week, the Ava Bears saw their season come to a close on Saturday night with a disappointing 63-45 loss to the Liberty Eagles.

The Bears upset second-seed Licking in the semifinals on Thursday night, 57-45, to reach the championship game.

The Bears finished the season with a record of 18-10 and were 7-0 in the SCA.

Austin Gastineau had season high 22 points against Licking, with 15 of the 22 coming in the second half.

Ava and Licking hooked up in a real duel, playing to a 21-all first half tie before the Bears took charge in the second half.

Ava took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Gastineau was 7-for-7 at the line in the second half and Kevin Philpott scored eight of his 13 points in the second half.

Two big 3-point shots by Zach Leonard opened up the middle for Philpott who had 10 big rebounds for Ava.

Leonard had 10 of his 13 points in the second half of play, and also had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals on the night.

Gastineau had six assists and two steals.

Ben Loge had six points for the Bears and was credited with an outstanding defensive game, holding Licking’s Ben Denbow well under his scoring average of 27 points per game.

Denbow finished with 20 points for the Wildcats, “and he earned every one of them”, Coach Nathan Houk said.

“Ben did a good job of limiting (Denbow’s) touches and keeping him off the boards,” Houk said.

Chase Dixon added three points for the Bears and although he is usually the shortest man on the floor he had six rebounds as well as two steals and two assists.

The Bears outscored Licking 18-8 in the fourth quarter to take the win.

In the championship game on Saturday night the Bears had things going their way for three quarters, building up a double-digit lead in the first half.

The Bears took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, but turnovers late in the game would be their demise.

The Bears had four turnovers on four possessions late in the game and the Eagles turned each one into a score.

Gastineau led the Bears with 20 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists.

Leonard had 17 points, along with eight rebounds and two assists.

Loge finished with 10 points, two rebounds and two steals, and Philpott had four points and five rebounds.

Dixon had three points for Ava and two steals.

Coach Houk said Saturday night’s loss was a tough one to take, “but we have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. At one point in the season the Bears were 4-7, but with hard work and determination, the Bears fought back to a record of 8-9 before going on a 10-win run late in the season.

“Our underclassmen really complimented the play of our seniors and gave them a lot of proud memories,” Coach Houk said.

“Many say they overachieved,” the coach added, “but I think their determination and effort allowed them to compete at a high level. They expected to do well and they did.”

Seniors Leonard, Philpott, Dixon and Kody Kutz were on teams that played for a district championship in all four years of their high school career, Coach Houk noted. “I think that is pretty neat.”

Houk went on to say, “I wish them all the best. What a great group of players to have as seniors in my first year as the head coach.”

Some of the Bears accomplishments this year included first place in the Mansfield Tournament, second place in the Conway Tournament, and SCA champions with a record of 7-0 to become only the third team in Ava history to win the conference outright.

The Bears wrapped up the season by finishing 18-10 and second place in the district tournament.

In post-season voting this week by SCA coaches, Gastineau was named to the all-SCA first team, Leonard made second team, and Loge, a sophomore, received honorable mention.

The Ava junior varsity finished its season with a record of 17-4, including a first place win in the Fair Grove Tournament and third place in the Marshfield Tournament.

The freshman Bears were 7-4 and took second in the Willow Springs Tournament.