ELIDA – The Van Wert Cougars ladies’ basketball team was looking for back-to-back wins in the Western Buckeye League as the traveled to Elida to square up against the Bulldogs Thursday night. The Cougars used a second half surge to win a thrilling contest 54-50.
A slow start by both teams kept the score low and close to begin the first quarter. After battling back-and-forth for the first four minutes of action, the score remained at 4-4.
Reagan Priest broke the deadlock with a three from the left wing and gave her team a 7-4 advantage. With three minutes remaining, Elida standout Shyah Wheeler fell to the floor with a leg injury. A hush fell over the crowd as she laid on the court for several minutes before being helped to the sideline by medical staff. Van Wert maintained their lead for the remaining minutes of the quarter and held an 11-8 lead after one.
Wheeler’s absence had little effect on the Bulldogs in the second quarter. Elida won the battle under the basket by out-rebounding the Cougars 10-to-3. Amiah Jones hit a jump shot and Cienna Kuhn nailed a three from the wing to knot things up at 13-13. Sloppy ball handling plagued Van Wert in the first half. They allowed eight turnovers in the second quarter to just three by Elida. Abby Jackson helped keep the Cougars in the game with her seven points in the quarter including a three from downtown, but the Bulldogs held a 23-21 lead at the half.Elida enjoyed the halftime lead, but perhaps more importantly, Shyah Wheeler returned from her injury earlier in the game. She made her presents know by putting up 7-points and creating havoc on defense for the Cougars. Van Wert continued to struggle with turnovers and lost the ball six times in the third quarter. Despite Wheeler’s return and turnover troubles, the Cougars shot the ball well and battled the Bulldogs on every play. Reagan Priest hit a three to give Van Wert the lead midway through the quarter, but Elida fought back. Wheeler sunk a three-ball late to tie it up at 33-33. A trip to the foul line gave the Bulldogs a two-point lead, but Alexis Rupert hit a buzzer-beater from behind the arc to give the Cougars a 36-35 advantage entering the final quarter.
The stage was set for a dramatic finish at the Elida Fieldhouse as both teams dug in for the fourth quarter. Van Wert took an early lead when Alexis Metz found pay dirt from the top of the arc. Her three gave the Cougars a 39-39 advantage. The lead swung back in favor of Elida two minutes in to the fourth with help from none other then Shyah Wheeler. She had 12-points to close out the game and finished with a team high 21-points despite missing most of the first half. The Bulldogs stretched their lead to five before Van Wert came roaring back. They went on a 10-0 run and took a 49-44 lead with :39 remaining in the game. Elida had no choice but to foul and pray miracle, and they almost got it. Wheeler hit a three with :30.8 left on the clock and brought the Bulldogs within two. Priest went 2-for-2 on her free throws to give the Cougars a four-point lead, but Wheeler drained another three from the same spot on the court and drew Elida within one.
With :18 remaining, an inbound pass was tipped by Van Wert and gave Elida the ball and one last chance at the win. Wheeler was fouled at mid-court but failed to convert any of her free throws. A flagrant foul by Elida sent Cassidy Meyers to the line for Van Wert and she went 2-for-2 to stretch the Cougar lead to three with :10.6 remaining in the game. Caylee Phillips was next at the foul line for Van Wert. She went 1-for-2 and made it a two-possession game with :4.8 to play. The Bulldogs made a desperation full court shot but fell shot of its intended target, and the Cougars came away with their second WBL win in a row.
Van Wert head coach Rob Adams was happy with his team’s victory.
“We got some young girls that are still learning, but they are playing big right now. The second half we was just trying to stay calm," said Adams. "There was no change of orders, I just told them to stay calm, stay focused and just play our game. It’s a testament to our girls. They won the game tonight, we didn’t do anything, they did the job tonight.”