Cougars bounce back with 52-45 win

VAN WERT — The Van Wert Cougars tipped off Friday night at the Cougars’ Den looking for their first winning season in the Western Buckeye League since 2011-12. On senior night, the Cougars nailed some clutch foul shots to pick up a 52-45 victory over Defiance.

Words can’t accurately describe the roller coaster eight days that the Van Wert boys’ basketball program and the Van Wert community has endured. After a heartbreaking loss last Friday night, the Cougars got banged up on Tuesday night in a loss at Lima Central Catholic, which left Van Wert without Nate Place for Friday nights’ matchup. Additionally, a threat of violence on Thursday caused school to be canceled.

“I tell you what from last Friday to this Friday I think we have had every emotion known to mankind,” Van Wert head coach and middle school principal Mark Bagley said. “Obviously, Thursday was a rough day. Tonight was a good celebration for us to win at home for our three seniors [Thane Cowan, Jonathan Lee and Jacoby Kelly]. They all started tonight; we were a bit banged up a little. It was really an enjoyable night for us.”

The Bulldogs got the first two buckets of the game before Van Wert went on a 13-2 run in the first quarter. The Cougars were paced with 5 points from Blake Henry and 4 points from Drew Bagley.

Defiance went 4-fot-4 from the foul line to go into the second quarter down just 13-10. The Bulldogs briefly took the lead when DJ Dobson hit a 3-pointer to put Defiance up 17-15. The Cougars were quick to counter with a triple from Owen Treece, making it 18-17, Van Wert.

After an Alex Naton layup put Defiance up 19-18, the Cougars went on a 9-0 run sparked by a Bagley 3-point play. The Bulldogs ended the scoring in the first half with a Will Lammers trey to go into the intermission down 27-22.

The second half saw a switch in defense for Defiance as the Bulldogs went to a 2-3 zone, which frustrated Van Wert, holding them to just 4 points in the quarter. Defiance capitalized on the chance and took the lead late in the third quarter with a Naton layup to give the Bulldogs a 33-31 lead after the third period.

An Easton Gerken bucket mid way through the final period gave Defiance its biggest lead since the first quarter at 38-34. Van Wert responded and quickly tied the game at 38-38 with two points from Bagley and two more from Kelly.

Defiance got a 3-point play from Gerken only to see that matched with a 3-pointer from Kelly to knot the game at 41-41. Kelly broke the tie for Van Wert with a layup, and later on the Cougars called a timeout with under three minutes on the clock.

The Cougars looked intent on dribbling the clock down if the Bulldogs wouldn’t come out of their zone. Defiance had no choice but to switch defenses and Van Wert made the Bulldogs pay, ending the contest with a 9-4 run, giving the three Van Wert seniors a 52-45 victory.

“All three of the seniors are so different,” Bagley said. “Thane is a kid that was in our program and went a way for a year. I’m so glad he came back. He had a concussion, and he was out for a couple games, but he continued to work hard. John Lee, every night we ask him to guard the other team’s best player. He is a total team player. Jacoby will probably go down as one of the top scorers in Van Wert basketball history, and he has lost a lot of games. He wants to finish on a great note, and today was a good note for him to finish in the Den.”

With the win on Friday, Van Wert ends the regular season 11-10 and 5-4 in the WBL. Defiance drops to 7-14 and 2-7 in the WBL. The Cougars kick off tournament play on Wednesday night at Findlay High School against the Maumee Panthers.