After losing a lead at home to Vermilion on Jan. 3, the Flashes were slightly above-average and still trying to find their chemistry as a team.
Seventeen straight wins later, Willard is one of the hottest teams in Ohio — and celebrating its first district championship in 13 years.
Davon Triplett, Cooper Parrott, and Terry Baldridge combined for 49 points and 29 rebounds as the Flashes topped Upper Sandusky, 60-36, in a Division III district championship game at Norwalk High School on Saturday.
"I would not have believed it, but it is reality," Bedingfield said. "Sometimes it is about what the kids believe. We talked a lot about every game being a championship game (after the Vermilion loss). To treat it that way - a lot of good things can happen."
With the win, the Flashes improve to 22-3 overall and advance to Wednesday's 8 p.m. regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University against Coldwater (17-9).
"Our length bothered them," Bedingfield said. "I know they might not have shot it as well as they normally do, but I thought our kids did an excellent job of not allowing them to get a bunch of points."
Willard had not been in a district final game since 2006, which also came against the Rams — the legendary 101-98 win with Jimmy Langhurst and Jon Diebler each scoring 55 points.
"This means so much to me, but I think it means even more to this community," Parrott said. "It has been 13 years since we won one."
Upper Sandusky clobbered Willard in the season's opening game, 83-59 back on Nov. 30 in Willard.
"The fact of how Upper beat us in the first game makes it that much more sweet," Parrott said. "I am almost kind of glad the way we got beat in the first game because it pushed us a little bit more."
Evan Young nailed a 3-pointer and Trevor Clifford scored off of an inbounds pass to get Upper Sandusky (19-6) within 20-15 after eight minutes.
Clifford scored on an identical inbounds play and Young scored to draw the Rams within a point with 6:53 left in the second quarter, but that is when Willard kicked it up a notch on the defensive end.
Turnovers consistently hurt the Rams in the second quarter as the Willard offense continued to play well. Baldridge scored five straight points before Parrott knocked down a shot. Baldridge added a 3 to push the Flashes ahead, 30-19. Upper Sandusky had six turnovers in the quarter — giving the Rams 13 turnovers for the half.
"Part of the problem in the second quarter was we turned it over too much," Upper Sandusky coach Jeff Winslow said. "Sometimes we were not even getting a look and then when we got good looks, we did not make them."
Mason Vent opened the second half with a triple for the Rams and then stole a pass and was off to the races. Unfortunately for Upper Sandusky, his layup rolled around the rim and out, leading to a Parrott jumper. Triplett scored off of an offensive rebound and Parrott hit a 3-pointer, giving Willard a 37-24 lead with 4:47 left in the third quarter.
Later, a reverse layup by Vent cut the Flashes' lead to 38-28 before Baldridge scored on a putback. On the next play, Vent again had a clear path to a layup, but missed the shot and came down grabbing his leg. He exited the game and Willard led, 40-29 after three quarters.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in here," Baldridge said. "Coach prepared us all week and we came in and showed how we could play. This is great."
As if things were not trending well for the Rams, early in the fourth quarter, Trevor Clifford took a shot to the face going for a rebound and was relegated to the bench for the rest of the game. Vent returned to the game and his layup cut the margin to single digits again, but it was the closest that Upper Sandusky would get.
Triplett scored off of an offensive rebound, Brevon Polachek drilled a 3 off an assist from Parrott, then Polachek added a layup off of an Upper Sandusky turnover to increase the lead to 47-31.
The Rams got as close as 49-36 with 4:54 left, but Willard scored the last 11 points of the game as Upper Sandusky went scoreless the rest of the game.
"You have to put the ball in the basket," Winslow said. "You can not miss layups and wide-open 3s. That is what you have to make to beat (Willard) the way they are playing."
It is the third time that the Flashes have had an opportunity to avenge an early-season loss. After getting payback against Margaretta and Vermilion, Willard proved it has the ability to adjust in adverse situations and Bedingfield pointed to one key factor why.
"Short memory," Bedingfield said. "Every time we step on the floor, it is a new game. We talk about winning the night. It does not really matter what happened in the past."
Young paced the Rams with 13 points. Clifford scored eight points, Vent tallied seven points, and Cameron McCreary scored six points - but zero field goals after a 3 less than 90 seconds into the game.
"It is tough to think about the good things you do when you finish the year like that," Winslow said. "If you are going to get beat, you would like to get beat playing your best. We didn't, so it's a tough one to think about right now."
Triplett led Willard with 20 points and nine rebounds.
"It feels good. This is my first time making it this far in basketball," Triplett said. "I am soaking it all in right now."
Willard now faces a Coldwater team that grinded through the mighty Midwest Athletic Conference at 13-9, but knocked off No. 1 Archbold and perennial powerhouse Ottawa-Glandorf to win the Lima district.
"They are a very physical basketball team," said Bedingfield of the Cavaliers. "They are a team that had a lot of good athletes — maybe more in the form of football athletes. We will have our hands full."
UPPER SANDUSKY (19-6)
Cameron McCreary 1-3—6, Trevor Clifford 4-0—8, Mason Vent 3-0—7, Evan Young 5-0—13, Jason Holly 1-0—2. TOTALS 14-3—36.
Brevon Polachek 3-2—9, Terry Baldridge 5-1—12, Myles Pinkston 1-0—2, Davon Triplett 10-0—20, Cooper Parrott 6-2—17. TOTALS 25-5—60.
U. Sandusky 15 4 10 7 — 36
Willard 20 10 10 20 — 60
3-point FGs: (US) Young 3, McCreary, Vent; (W) Parrott 3, Polachek, Baldridge