WILLARD -- Joe Balogh is approaching 600 career wins at Ontario, posting victories in four decades and in two different centuries.
But even the veteran coach, a man whose home court bears his name, needed a few minutes to just enjoy the moment after his Warriors shocked Lexington, 45-41, in a Division II sectional final at Willard High School on Friday night.
The win advances Ontario (16-8), winners of 10 of its last 11 games, into the district semifinals at Madison Middle School on Wednesday at 8 p.m., taking on top-seeded Norwalk (21-3). The first game on Wednesday pits Mansfield Senior (19-4) against Vermilion (18-5) at 6:15 p.m.
It's the first time Ontario has beaten Lexington (18-6) since 2014. Balogh, whose team had been 6-7 at one point this season, had just eliminated the defending regional champions and Final Four participant from a year ago and he took a few moments by himself on the bench.
After he helped his team finish cutting down the net, at the same basket where only minutes before senior Jayden Jacobs had sealed the win with a rebound basket off a missed free throw, Balogh welcomed a chance to talk to media.
"It's a big win. We have battled Lex ... this group of (eight) Lex seniors has been outstanding. They have ruined a couple of seasons for us. I even had a couple of former players talk to me about when we were No. 1 and they beat us in the sectional," Balogh said.
"My oldest son remembers them beating him when he was a senior ... so it was a bit of redemption," he said. "It goes to these kids though. They were outstanding and the toughness they showed mentally and physically tonight was just really, really good," Balogh said.
"The resiliency of this group has been amazing. We were 6-7 at one time and you never know what's going to happen. But our kids have bought in and done a helluva job," Balogh said.
WARRIOR MENTALITY: That toughness was needed after Lexington jumped out to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. Ontario closed the gap, but still trailed 21-14 at the intermission.
Ontario's first lead didn't come until the 2:17 mark in the third quarter when a basket by Kolten Kurtz put the Warriors up 29-28.
"We just hung in," Balogh said. "We thought if we could get a lead, our chances were going to be pretty good. It didn't look good all the time, but we never let it get away from us. That was the big key."
Lexington battled back and led 32-29 going into the final period. Back-to-back triples by Shaquan Coburn and Griffin Shaver regained the lead for Ontario at 35-32 with 6:53 left.
Senior Cade Stover, selected this week as the Ohio Cardinal Conference Player of the Year, then connected on consecutive conventional three-point plays and Lexington led 38-37 with 4:07 left.
A basket and then two free throws by Jacobs regained the lead at 41-38 for Ontario. Lexington missed its shot on its next possession and Stover, who had just one foul going into the fourth quarter, collected his fifth foul trying to collar the rebound.
Parker Vanarsdalen hit the front end of the ensuing one-and-one to give the Warriors a 42-38 lead with 1:32 left.
With Stover on the bench, Lexington closed the gap to 42-41 with 58 seconds left on a rebound basket and free throw by Ben Vore.
The Minutemen then sent Coburn to the line with 15 seconds left. He hit the first and missed the second.
That's when Jacobs, saddled with four fouls of his own, made the play of the night. He grabbedthe offensive rebound and stuck it back in to clinch the win and set the stage for an on-court dogpile of Ontario players and fans.
"Me and Parker actually looked at each other and we were unsure if we really wanted to (go after the rebound) because we both had four fouls," Jacobs said. "I just thought that this could be my last time out here on a basketball court, so I was going for it. I grabbed it, pump-faked (the defender) and put it in the basket.
"This feels great. Holding this net in my hand and knocking them out ... that's what is great to me," Jacobs said.
DISAPPOINTING FINISH: Lexington coach Scott Hamilton, whose team earned a share of the OCC title this season, admitted it was a tough way to conclude the year.
"I thought we played hard. We had a couple of bounces that didn't go our way. We reminded the kids of some things we were able to accomplish last year when we did have the ball bounce our way.
"To be honest, this was the conversation we just had with the guys. This was gonna be a tough (loss) no matter where it was. When you have eight senior players, and a senior manager, this is a tough situation to be in no matter where you are on the tournament trail," Hamilton said.
One of those eight seniors is Stover, who has started all four years at Lexington and will be a part of The Ohio State University football team in the fall. The 6-5 post finished his career with another double-double, scoring 18 points and pulling down 13 rebounds before fouling out.
"It's going to be extremely different (next season)," Hamilton said. "You look up and you are used to seeing the same guy for four years. You knew this day was going to come, but when you have that comfort zone, it makes it more difficult.
"I go back to even when I had Jonah Yaussy, I can confidently say for the last seven years, when I walked into a gym, I had the best post player in the gym. Now we are going to have to work hard to see if that continues," Hamilton said.
In addition to Stover, Lexington will lose seniors Vore, Kyle Johnston, Jacob Depperschmidt, Austin Basham, Jack Dials, Josh Aiello and Nick Stehle.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Stover led all scorers with his 18 points. Vore added 12 and Aiello had seven.
Jacobs led Ontario with 10 points. Kurtz and Coburn each added nine, Shaver had eight and Vanarsdalen finished with seven.
Neither team shot the ball well. Ontario connected on 32 percent from the field (14-44), but hit seven of 20 triples, and was 10 of 14 at the foul line. Lexington hit just 28 percent (16-56) from the floor, missing 15 of 18 three-point attempts, but hitting six of seven at the line.
Lexington had a 42-33 rebounding edge, led by Stover. Vore added eight. Jacobs led Ontario with eight and Coburn had six.
Lexington committed 14 turnovers while Ontario had 12.
Balogh knows Norwalk, which beat Ontario 62-44 in January, will pose a challenge Wednesday.
"They have the best guard and probably the best player in the area. Our kids are excited about the opportunity to play in the district tournament," he said. "We will enjoy this tonight, get some rest tomorrow, and then try to to put a game plan together Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. We will come ready to play on Wednesday and we will see what happens."