VAN WERT — Friday night at Van Wert High School started out as a celebration of the rich history of the Van Wert Cougars boys’ basketball team. It ended with a celebration of the present state of Cougar basketball. The Cougars upset the sixth-ranked team in the state, Western Buckeye League rival Elida, by a score of 59-51.
Van Wert honored soon-to-be hall of fame coach Dave Froelich, who racked up 279 wins at Van Wert, following the JV contest. The varsity game turned out to be a display of the present and future of the Van Wert basketball program.
“It couldn’t have been a better night,” Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley, a long-time assistant to Froelich, said afterward. “I think people know how much respect I have for Coach Fro; he was my mentor and for 18 years we battled together. For him to be here tonight and be honored, this win was the final icing on the cake tonight to celebrate Coach Fro. This is what high school basketball is about: great atmosphere here tonight.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 4-2 lead thanks to two buckets from Donte Johnson. Van Wert rallied with a layup from Nate Place and 3-pointer from freshman Owen Treece to go up 10-4.
The Cougars (9-7, 3-3 WBL) got five straight points from Jacoby Kelly, including a triple, to go up 15-6. The Bulldogs capped the first period with buckets from TC Smith and Johnson to cut the Cougars’ lead to 15-10.
Daniel Unruh hit back-to-back jumpers in the second period to bring the Cougars lead down to 17-14. Both teams exchanged 3-pointers, as Drew Bagley and Skyler Smith knocked down treys for a 20-17 scoreboard. Elida was able to hit two 3-pointers down the final three minutes of the second quarter to go into half up 27-26.
The Bulldogs (15-2, 4-2 WBL) hit another 3-pointer to open the third quarter, as Unruh’s triple increased the Elida lead to 30-26. Van Wert briefly took the lead with a trey from Treece and layup from Kelly, 31-30, Van Wert. Back-to-back buckets from Johnson put Elida up 34-31.
The Cougars then took command and closed out the third period with a 14-2 run, getting eight points from Treece to go up 45-36. Van Wert opened the final period with buckets form Bagley and Treece before Unruh and Bagley exchanged 3-pointers to bring the score to 52-39, Cougars.
With 4:32 left in the fourth quarter and Van Wert up 54-39, the Bulldogs used a timeout to compose themselves for what they hoped would be a late rally. The Bulldogs were able to close the gap down to 54-47 thanks to a 4-point play from Trevor Hooker. The Cougars went 0-for-3 from the foul line during the Elida run, but Van Wert closed out the game going 5-for-6 from the stripe to ice the game.
“We moved the ball really well in the first quarter and early in the second quarter, but I used the term ‘hero ball’ to describe what we did late in the second quarter,” Coach Bagley said. “Once we got away from just dribbling and got more into moving and sharing the ball, I thought we were really good tonight.”