SALEM - Last time, Minerva and West Branch faced off the hardwood, the Lions outscored the Warriors 23-4 in the second half en route to a 45-33 victory.
On Tuesday, the two teams met again, and although Minerva did outdo West Branch by four points in the fourth, the Lions did little in the other three, as the Warriors rode a strong middle-quarter performance to a 58-46 win at home.
"I thought we played well in the second and third quarters," West Branch coach John Hancock said. "We found each other and we were able to get the ball to open players. (Minerva) did a really good job of doubling-down on our post players and it was nice to see our guards knock down some shots tonight."
Austen Rekolt and Drake Lohnes both notched double digits to lead the Warriors. Rekolt scored a game-high 15 and Drake Lohnes scored 13. And while each dropped in key 3-pointers in the middle quarters - Rekolt hit two in and Lohnes drained one - it was the duo's performance at the line in the fourth that kept the Lions at bay.
"Nobody on our team averages double digits, but usually it's one of our post players who do do it," Hancock continued. "Tonight, it was Austen and Drake. They hit some shots but more importantly they went a combined 14-16 at the free throw line."
As a team, the Warriors finished 20-of-31 at the line. Fourteen of those successful foul shots came in the fourth where they went 14-of-21. Lohnes was a perfect 8-of-8 in the quarter while Rekolt was 5-of-6.
The Lions netted six 3-pointers in the final period, including their first five buckets. Eli Maurer opened the quarter with back-to-back long shots. The sharpshooting cut what had been a 20-point West Branch lead down to nine points late in the fourth.
"I was disappointed in how we ended things tonight," Hancock said. "We're not used to playing in that type of situation (with a lead). We've been in so many close games this year. And to Minerva's credit, they started knocking them down. They weren't going to quit and Maurer and Jantsen (Locke) are both really good players."
Locke finished with a game-high 20 points and Eli Maurer scored 12. They combined for 20 of the Lions' 24 fourth-quarter points.
But ultimately the game was decided in the second and third quarters. The Warriors, who led 10-6 after one complete quarter, used a team effort and a 12-0 run to take a 28-16 lead at the half. Rekolt, Jalen Shelton and Matt Latham all picked up assists in the second quarter as five Warriors notched points.
Just like the opening quarter, West Branch outdid the Lions 10-6 in the third. And while the Warriors slowed down a bit on offense they kicked it up on defense, holding Minerva scoreless for a six-minute stretch.
"They first time we played them, they pushed around," Hancock said. "They have some football players on their team and are a pretty physical especially off the glass. Tonight, we challenged our players to not get pushed around and we handled it pretty well. I was happy with our toughness."
West Branch out-rebounded the Lions 31-27 (Latham had 10) and forced 16 turnovers (Lohnes came up with four steals) while committing 14.
The Warriors are now 9-6 overall and 6-6 in the NBC. The Lions dropped to 5-10 and 5-7 in league play.
The J.V. Warriors picked up a 51-41 win. Zach Mucklo scored 25 points with Dustin Greenawalt adding 11. Minerva's Nick Clapper had 22.
West Branch next plays Friday at Louisville.
MINERVA: 8 10 6 24 - 46
WEST BRANCH: 10 18 10 20 - 58
MINERVA SCORING: Eli Maurer 4-1-12, Zach Wade 1-0-2, Jantsen Locke 8-0-20, Keanan Locke 2-0-5, Jacob Eberling 1-3-5. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 4-11, 56.
WEST BRANCH: Kip DeShields 2-0-4, Austen Rekolt 4-6-15, Drake Lohnes 2-8-13, Jacob Griffith 3-0-6, Matt Latham 4-0-8. TEAM TOTALS: 17 21-30, 58.
THREE POINTERS: Minerva 8 (Maurer 3, J. Locke 4, K. Locke), West Branch 4 (Rekolt 3, Lohnes).