LIMA — After struggling mightily against a variety of Lima Bath defenses, Van Wert seemed to find the solution in the last five minutes, using an 18-8 run to turn a 1-point deficit into a 55-46 win.
The Cougars are now 10-7 overall and 4-3 in the Western Buckeye League. The Wildcats are 7-12 and 1-6.
The Cougs led 35-34 going into the fourth quarter. Then junior Nate Place squirmed through the Bath defense for a layup to lead 37-34. However, the Wildcats’ unorthodox senior Chad Frey countered with a nifty 10-foot turnaround jumper and a 10-foot baseline hook shot to put Bath up 38-37 with 6:30 left. Timeout, Van Wert.
Van Wert fans were worried, but Jacoby Kelly quickly quieted their nerves. The senior point guard had 980 points going into the game, needing 20 to reach the 1,000-point milestone. After struggling through a scoreless first half, Kelly’s first points had come on an old-style 3-point play with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
Kelly swished a straightaway 3-pointer with 5:10 left in the game to get the lead back at 40-38. After the teams traded misses, Van Wert junior Blake Henry snared an offensive rebound and dished it to Place out front for Place’s fourth three of the game — 43-38 at 3:51. Following a Bath turnover, Kelly sliced inside for a layup at 3:07 to stretch the lead to 45-38.
Frey’s running close-range hook shot narrowed it to 45-40, but junior Drew Bagley trumped that by muscling in a layup (assist Place). After a Wildcat miss, Kelly again knifed his way inside for a layup — 49-40 with 1:27 left. Bath sophomore Steven Shook scored inside, but consecutive breakaway layups by Bagley and Kelly pretty much sealed the deal — 53-42 at 0:52.
“We called a timeout, down one,” said coach Mark Bagley of the beginning of that fourth quarter spurt. “We said ‘Settle down, we’re fine.’ We put Nate (Place) in the high post, and we started attacking it. Obviously, in the last five minutes Jacoby scored most of his points. He made some individual one-on-one plays and made some passes, too, that really helped us. The fourth quarter he carried us home.”
Both teams started the game ice-cold. In fact, Van Wert’s first points didn’t arrive until Place’s breakaway layup (assist Kelly) tied the game at 2-2 with 3:49 on the clock. Both teams were 4 for 14 from the field in the first eight minutes, after which the Cougars led 10-9.
With the ‘Cats up 12-10 early in the second quarter, Van Wert went on a 9-0 run (Bagley elbow jumper, Bagley breakaway layup, Place 8-foot turnaround jumper, Place right-wing triple) to lead 19-12 at 5:10.
Bath, however, came right back and caught up at 23-all on consecutive 3-pointers by Frey and senior Devon Kinyon. That’s where it stood at halftime.
Bagley’s 3-point play (steal, layup-and-one) started the third quarter with a 26-23 lead, and the Cougars managed to barely hold onto that lead throughout the period. After the first 24 minutes, Van Wert still hadn’t solved Bath’s defenses, having hit only 15 of 46 shots from the field, including 3 of 17 from long range. Luckily for the Cougs, their fourth quarter numbers improved considerably — 8 of 12 from the field, 2 for 4 from three.
For the game as a whole, Van Wert was slightly better from the field — 40 percent (23 of 58) to 37 percent (18 of 49). Both teams canned five 3-pointers, Van Wert on 21 shots (24 percent), Bath on 19 shots (26 percent). The Cougars had a rebounding edge, 31-29, and fewer turnovers, 10-14. Free throws were not a factor — Van Wert 4 of 6, Bath 5 of 7.
“We struggled on the road tonight,” said Coach Bagley. “Our league is hard on the road. They (the Wildcats) played triangle-and-two, 1-2-2, 2-3, 1-3-1, not much man, but it was a good win for us tonight.”
Place, Bagley, and Kelly led Van Wert’s scoring with 18, 15, and 14. Kelly’s 994 career points leave him six short of the big milestone. Frey, Kinyon, and Will Clark — all seniors — led Bath with 17, 12, and 10.
The Cougar reserves (15-2) pulled away in the second half to win a very physical JV game, 46-33. Van Wert was led in scoring by sophomores Clayton Proffitt, Kolby Barnhart, and Jake Hilleary with 17, 8, and 8. Sophomore Austin Sakemiller had 14 for Bath.