VAN WERT — In need of a signature win, Van Wert got one Friday night with a 58-55 upset of Shawnee in a wire-to-wire thriller. The Cougars are now 4-7 overall and 1-3 in the Western Buckeye League. Shawnee is 10-3 and 2-1.
“There were some confidence issues there,” Van Wert coach Mark Bagley said of his team’s struggles to date. “I think we broke through some hurdles tonight, mentally. Everybody made plays, and I’m really proud of our team, not about winning but about playing the right way and competing and battling.”
It was 41-41 going into the fourth quarter. Cougar junior Nate Place then started his 13-point quarter with a baby hook; however, Shawnee countered with an 8-0 run, the first six coming on two 3-pointers by freshman lefty Logan Maxwell, the last two points on a put-back by junior Jake Hutchins. It was 49-43, Shawnee, with 5:15 remaining.
Place then went on his own personal 8-1 run — two free throws, old-style 3-point play (layup and one), breakaway layup, one of two free throws — 51-50, Cougs, at 3:35. Jacoby Kelly cashed in one of two free throws, but Indian junior Johnny Caprella then picked off a pass and went the distance to tie it at 52 with 1:30 left.
Kelly then hit Place with a back-door pass to give Van Wert a 54-52 lead at 1:13, though Place came down with a cramp on the play that took him out of the game momentarily and hampered him for the remainder. The Indians misfired on their next two possessions, allowing Place to split a pair at the line and Kelly to knock down both of his — 57-52 with 15 seconds left.
Shawnee junior Sheridan O’Neal rattled in a corner triple at 0:06 to make it a game again, and Van Wert freshman Owen Treece was fouled in the backcourt. Treece hit only the second of two — 58-55 at 0:05. The Cougs then opted to play the percentages and foul at mid-court. Maxwell missed the front end, and Van Wert got the rebound to seal it.
“I want to welcome back a new player to our team, Nate Place,” said Bagley. “It’s been a long almost four-month journey with mono. Nobody knows how much Nate has been frustrated, how much he can’t practice. I saw how he practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, it was like ‘Wow, he’s got so much energy!’ It took him awhile to get going tonight, but once he got going we rode him.”
It was a back-and-forth affair from start to finish, as evidenced by 11 ties and 11 lead changes. Shawnee spurted out to a 9-2 lead via three triples, but Kelly led an 11-4 run, capped by his steal and buzzer-beating layup to tie it at 13 after one. He had nine first-quarter points.
There were five second quarter lead changes, the last one coming on a 16-foot angle swisher by Kelly at 0:40, giving Van Wert a 23-22 halftime lead. That was Kelly’s 13th point of the half. All of the first half statistics were nearly even for the two teams, and they would pretty much stay that way.
The game continued to see-saw in the third period as the offenses picked up the pace, resulting in the highest scoring quarter of the game. Kelly had two threes, and Place had one. Kelly again capped off the scoring, this time with a slashing layup at the buzzer to tie it at 41.
For the game as a whole, both teams were solid from the field — Van Wert 50 percent (20 of 40), including 63 percent (5 of 8) from long range; Shawnee 44 percent (21 of 48), 45 percent (9 of 20) from three. From the line it was a different story — Van Wert 63 percent on 13 of 19, Shawnee only 36 percent on 4 of 11. Boards were nearly even — Van Wert with a 23-22 edge.
Only seven Cougars played, and only four dented the scoring column — Kelly, Place, junior Drew Bagley, and Treece with 23, 22, 10, and 3. Ten Indians saw the floor, and eight of them scored, led by O’Neal, junior Justin Behnke, Maxwell, and Caprella with 13, 11, 9, and 9.
The Cougar junior varsity (10-1) took a tight one 46-44. Freshman LeTrey Williams and sophomore Jake Hilleary led the Van Wert scoring with 14 and 12. Freshman George Mangas had 16 for Shawnee.