Short-handed Lady Cougars rally for Senior Night win

VAN WERT — The Van Wert Lady Cougars honored two senior basketball players on Thursday night as Cassidy Meyers and Alexis Rupert were a part of their final home game at the Cougars’ Den against Western Buckeye League foe Celina. The Lady Cougars rallied from an 11-point deficit to start the second half to win the game on a last-second 3-point play, 55-52.

We learn early in life that life isn’t fair and tonight was an example as two seniors who had given their all to the Van Wert girls’ basketball program got dealt a bad hand. Alexis Rupert couldn’t play on senior night due to a previous injury and Cassidy Meyers only got to play three plus minutes before an upper body injury ended her night early.

“We knew we had to have some girls step up. The girls battled; we didn’t change anything we were doing, this was all on them," said Van Wert head coach Rob Adams. "I couldn’t be prouder. I obviously wish Cassidy could have been here to enjoy her final win in the Den, but our girls stepped up.”

Celina got out to an early 7-4 lead as Carley Eichler drained a 3-pointer to help the Lady Bulldogs take an early lead. Van Wert responded quickly as Abby Jackson tied the game with a layup and Reagan Priest drilled a triple to put the Cougars up 10-7.

The Lady Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run to end the first quarter and start the second period as Celina knocked down two 3-pointers, one each from Lauren Jackson and Emily Braun. Van Wert called a timeout with 6:17 left in the second period, down 24-13, hoping to bring an end to the Celina run.

Jackson put Van Wert in the scoring column in the second quarter with a made foul shot, but minutes later Van Wert's night went from bad to worse as Caylee Phillips went down with leg/ankle injury that left Van Wert without two of its starting guards.

Luckily for Van Wert the rest of the Lady Cougars stepped up as Jerica Huebner drilled a jumper and Priest hit a trey to send Van Wert down only 11 points, 30-19, Celina.

“As we were going in at halftime we knew we took a blow, but we also knew we weren’t out of it. It was next-man-up, next-play mentality and I was telling the girls we have to get the game to five points by the end of the third quarter,” said Adams.

The second half brought the return of Phllips, but the Lady Bulldogs were the first to strike with a 3-pointer from Makenna Klingshirn, extending the lead to 33-19.

Van Wert twice cut the Celina lead in the third quarter to eight points thanks to a 3-pointer from Alexis Metz and a jumper from Priest. With the Lady Bulldogs lead slipping at 38-30, Celina got a triple before Van Wert closed out the quarter on a 8-2 run thanks to a 3-pointer from Huebner.

Van Wert had cut the Celina lead to just five at 43-38 to start the final quarter. After an Eichler layup had Celina up 45-38, Van Wert scored the next seven to tie the game at 45-45, getting a 3-pointer from Metz and a bucket from Sierra Shaffer.

The next basket of the game was a Phillips triple, which gave the Lady Cougars their first lead since the first quarter: 48-45, Van Wert. The Lady Cougars held a slim lead at 51-50 and Lauren Jackson put her Lady Bulldogs up 52-51 with less than two minutes on the clock.

Ten seconds later, Abby Jackson tied the contest up at 52-52 with a made foul shot. The next 90 seconds featured a couple of chances to take the lead for Celina but Van Wert gained possession of the ball and called a timeout with 11.1 seconds on the clock.

Van Wert passed the ball around the 3-point line and, with three seconds left on the clock, got the ball inside to Abby Jackson who had sealed off her defender for an easy bucket. Jackson sank the bucket and even got the whistle for the 3-point play with 1.1 seconds on the clock.

Jackson drilled the foul shot to put Van Wert up 55-52 and Celina's last second mid-court shot was short, and the Lady Cougars picked up the victory for their fallen teammates.

“I have known these two girls since their 7th and 8th grade years. I have coached them all four years even though this is just my second year [as the head coach]. It’s going to sting losing these two girls. Cass and Rup, I don’t have any words to describe what they have meant to the program but we are going to miss them,” finished Coach Adams.

Van Wert denied Celina their first WBL win of the season as the Lady Bulldogs drop to 2-20 and 0-9 in the WBL. The win on senior night improves Van Wert to 8-14 and 3-6 in the WBL.

Van Wert travels to Spencerville High School on Tuesday to start tournament play against the Lady Bulldogs of Elida.