Kelly reaches milestone, but Cougars fall at home

VAN WERT – It was unofficially Jacoby Kelly Night Saturday at the Cougar Den as the senior point guard scored his 1000th point, triggering an instant major celebration by the Van Wert players and fans with 4:41 left in the second quarter. 

There was little else to celebrate, however, as 5th-ranked (Division IV) St. Henry overpowered the Cougars 60-42. Van Wert is now 10-8, St. Henry 17-3.

Kelly came into the game with 994 points, and nearly every Van Wert fan in the gym was eager for the big moment. Kelly swished a corner 3-pointer late in the first quarter for his 997th point. With 5:57 left in the second, he sliced inside for his 999th and was fouled on the play. The fans anxiously awaited the free throw, but Kelly back-rimmed it, drawing a collective “Awww” from the crowd. With 4:41 on the clock, however, he duplicated the feat with a dandy layup for Point Number 1001, bringing the game to a halt for a brief but exuberant celebration.

“I felt a little bit more relaxed considering that the night before (14 points against Bath) I kinda set myself up for a good spot, just six points,” said Kelly. “The guys were giving me love in the locker room, and Coach Bags came to me and said, ‘Just play your game, and it’s gonna come. You don’t know when it’s gonna come, but we just know it’s gonna come.’ I started to let it come to me, and eventually I got into a little groove, and once it happened it was a great feeling!”

“He (Kelly) had to play right from the start (freshman year),” said Van Wert coach Mark Bagley. “A lot of growing pains there, a lot of long nights, tough nights. It’s been fun to watch him grow. He’s made a lot of improvements offensively, defensively. It’s a great career goal for him, but he has bigger goals in mind as far as the rest of the year.” 

As for the game, the visitors were impressive indeed, best summed up afterwards by Coach Bagley: “They (the Redskins) played an outstanding game. They offensive rebounded, they shot it well, they made free throws, then defensively they took us out of our stuff. They were the stronger team. They were more athletic. They were better at every phase.”

St. Henry started the game with a 10-2 run, all five baskets coming on layups. The Cougars battled back to get within 12-9, but the Redskins’ outstanding senior Tyler Schlarman threw in a desperation buzzer-beating  straightaway NBA-range bank shot to make it 15-9 after one. St. Henry dominated the boards 10-3 during those eight minutes.

Van Wert stayed close in the second quarter until the visitors went on a 7-0 run to stretch their lead from 20-17 to 27-17 with 1:39 on the clock. Van Wert junior Drew Bagley tripled from the right wing at 0:49 to narrow the lead to 27-20, which is where it stood at halftime.

The Redskin lead got as large as 14 in the third quarter — 38-24 at 2:11 — but Kelly’s buzzer-beating layup made it 41-30 going into the fourth. 

St. Henry removed any doubt about the eventual outcome midway through the fourth quarter when Schlarman’s old-style 3-point play and two free throws by senior Parker Link pushed the lead out to 52-35.

The Redskins out-shot the Cougars from the field 44 percent (21 of 48) to 34 percent (15 of 44), including 31 percent (5 of 16) to 16 percent (3 of 19) from beyond the arc. St. Henry didn’t miss a free throw until late in the fourth quarter, and they ended up at 87 percent (13 for 15), while Van Wert had problems from the stripe — 50 percent (9 for 18). The Redskins dominated the boards 34-19. Neither team had turnover problems — Van Wert 8, St. Henry 9.

Bagley and Kelly led the Van Wert scoring with 14 and 13. Schlarman had 18 for St. Henry. Of the eight Redskins who scored, six are seniors, and those six accounted for 46 of the 60 points.

Despite the loss, the Cougar fans were in a celebratory mood because of the milestone, and Kelly was appreciative of that. “It (high school career) has been so fast,” said Kelly. “Coming into it, obviously I was honored and blessed to play as a freshman, but just working hard and knowing that you can always get better, and there’s always room for improvement. I’ve always kept that mentality from freshman year all the way to this year and hopefully going into the collegiate years as well.”

Kelly’s 1007 points place him ninth out of 10 players on the 1000-point list. Chris Crosby’s 1025 and Kenny Sullivan’s 1028 are within easy striking distance. 

The Cougar jayvees are 16-2 after their 49-47 win. A layup with three seconds left by freshman LeTrey Williams was the decider. Sophomore Clayton Proffitt had 24 points for Van Wert. Sophomore Riley Link had 13 for St. Henry.