BELL CITY -- With Leopold 6-foot-5 post player Larry Nussbaum not in the starting lineup because of a foot injury, Bell City looked inside to score.
The Cubs were successful.
J.P. Arnold, Skylor Blackler and Brandon Bell combined for 36 points around the basket. They helped Bell City to a 66-59 upset victory despite a late comeback by the Wildcats on Tuesday in a Class 1 District 3 semifinal contest at Bell City High School.
"We really wanted to work it inside, me and Brandon, because we haven't really done it all year," Arnold said. "We just tried to pound it in."
Bell City (15-10) advanced to play in the Class 1 District 3 championship game at 6 p.m. Thursday against rival Scott County Central, which won its semifinal 90-52 over Richland.
Nussbaum, who has been one of Leopold's top scorers all season, suffered a foot injury about a week ago against Oak Ridge when he came down on another player's foot. The senior tore almost every ligament in his foot as well as damaging his Achilles tendon, Leopold coach Shawn Kinder said.
Nussbaum came off the bench and saw limited time throughout the game. He finished with two points for Leopold, which finished its season 21-4.
"I talked to Larry all week about it and I just wanted to have an idea of what he wanted to do," Kinder said. "I wasn't going to try to force him into playing. I knew he was bumped up pretty good talking to the athletic trainer and orthopedic surgeon and things like that. They said it was one of the worst ones they've seen. Larry, being his senior year, it was a last-minute decision for us to go ahead and try to stick him in there and playing him being maybe 50 percent, but it was his decision.
"Bell City is guard-orientated and we talked about that. We pushed that issue onto the kids to be prepared to stop penetration. And their big guys came in and played well tonight. I think they knew we were kind of short-handed in the post and they kind of took advantage of that."
Bell City interim coach Pat Niemczyk said that his goal was to get the ball inside against Leopold to force the Wildcats into early foul trouble.
"The big thing about Leopold that I was concerned about was their size," Niemczyk said. "They're big. They're a lot bigger than we are. I knew we just had to take it right at them and take it inside and try to get them in foul trouble. I know [Darren] VanGennip got into foul trouble a little bit and that hurt them."
Bell City took a 12-11 lead with a little more than 2 minutes left in the first period and never trailed again.
The Cubs led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter when Blackler scored eight points in the second quarter. He combined with Bell and Arnold for 14 of the Cubs' 22 points that quarter.
"We tried to pound it in there because Darren [VanGennip] was doing a good job on Melvin [Johnson], so that was the only way we were going to get good looks on the inside," Bell said.
The Cubs went into halftime leading by 13 points and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter.
But the Wildcats did not go down without a fight. They cut the deficit to 58-55 with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left after applying full-court pressure.
"They just changed it up on us and we didn't adjust very well," Bell City's Ronnie Gross said about Leopold's defense. "We had to figure out a different way to score and run our offense. We really weren't that patient with the ball and they hit some shots. They hit 3 after 3 and then next thing you know, they were in it. ... We took care of the ball toward the end there and we just managed to keep that lead."
Gross scored driving to the basket to put his team ahead 61-57 in the final two minutes. Bell made two big free throws to increase the lead to 63-57 and then Gross sealed it when he made a steal with 35 seconds left. He was fouled on his way to the basket and made both his free throws.
"I was just happy to get that steal," Gross said. "Try to ice the game. I wanted to get to the championship. We've been talking about it all year."
Bell City will play Scott County, the top ranked team in the district. This will be the sixth straight year the two teams have met in the playoffs.
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:BELL CITY (66) -- Melvin Johnson 9, Ronnie Gross 16, Jeff Long 5, Skylor Blackler 14, Brandon Bell 10, John Paul Arnold 12. FG 24, FT 13-20, F 14. (3-pointers: Johnson 3, Gross 2, Fouled out: none)
LEOPOLD (59) -- Wade Wiseman 3, David Fluchel 16, Darren VanGennip 19, Larry Nussbaum 2, Clayton Stoverink 2, Anthony Seabaugh 12, John Bohnsack 5. FG 21, FT 10-14, F 17. (3-pointers: Wiseman 1, Fluchel 1, VanGennip 3, Bohnsack 1. Fouled out: none)