Cougars capture district berth

FINDLAY — Fifth-seeded Van Wert bridged the halftime break with a 21-2 run, turning a second quarter 21-18 deficit into a 39-23 third quarter lead. The Cougars then held on for an action-packed 72-61 Division II sectional championship victory over 9th-seeded Lima Bath Friday night.

Van Wert (13-10) will play top ranked Wauseon (23-0) in an Ohio Northern district semifinal at approximately 8 p.m. (second game) next Wednesday. Bath’s season ends at 9-15.

“All you can ask for in your program is a chance to play the best, and Wednesday at Ohio Northern we get a chance to play the best,” said Van Wert coach Mark Bagley. “We’re not satisfied where we’re at. We know we can get a lot better. We’re happy, we’re gonna celebrate the sectional championship, but all you can ask for is to play 23-0, number one in the state.”

Early on it was a game of runs. The Cougars started the game off with a 10-2 spurt, but the Wildcats answered with a 9-3 run to trail only by 13-11 after one. Van Wert led 18-13 early in the second quarter, but Bath scored the next eight to take the aforementioned 21-18 lead with 4:44 on the clock. That’s when the game turned big-time in the Cougars’ favor.

Freshman Owen Treece rattled in an elbow jumper, then senior Jacoby Kelly hit two straight 3-pointers, and junior Blake Henry scored on a layup (assist Kelly) to lead 28-21 at the break.

The Van Wert spurt continued in the third quarter with 11 of the first 13 points. Henry started it by scoring on an in-bounds alley-oop from Kelly, then the Cougars landed three triples — Kelly, junior Drew Bagley, and Treece — 39-23 at 4:58. Bath got back within 11 at 42-31, 44-33, and 46-35, which is where it stood at the end of three.

“We didn’t do a great job getting organized early, we didn’t shoot well, but once we got organized, we attacked and shot layups, so it’s all about organization, communication, those kinds of things,” said Bagley. “The end of the first half was huge, then we had a good start in the third quarter, which has been our problem this year. We started making shots, we got stops defensively, that was huge.”

The fourth quarter was a wild one as the Wildcat full-court press forced a frantic tempo that resulted in a 26-26 quarter, which suited the Cougars fine. Bath got as close as seven at 56-49 with 4:01 on the clock. Van Wert pulled away again and were up by as many as 13 at 65-52 and 67-54.

It was 68-56 with exactly a minute left, but 6’8 Wildcat senior Harrison Gough scored five in a row via a 3-pointer and a put-back of his own miss — 68-61 with 46 seconds left. Only some missed free throws could then save Bath, but that didn’t happen — Kelly closed out the game by hitting 4 of 4 from the line.

The Cougs were 14 for 18 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars put up some impressive numbers in this game. They out-shot the ‘Cats from the field 49 percent (23 of 47) to 38 percent (23 of 61). Even a bigger factor was the 3-point shooting — Van Wert at 43 percent (9 for 21), Bath at 19 percent (4 for 21). The Cougars also won the boards decisively, 33-23. The Wildcats had fewer turnovers, 10-12. Both teams were solid from the stripe — Bath 79 percent (11 of 14), Van Wert 71 percent (17 of 24).

Van Wert used only six players, and all five starters scored in double digits — Kelly 18 (including 9 of 10 from the line), Place 15, Bagley 14, Henry 12, Treece 11.