WAPAKONETA — While many fans wearing Wapakoneta colors on Thursday night may have been worried, Rusty Allen stayed calm.
Despite his Wapakoneta girls basketball team falling into a rather steep hole early against visiting Elida, the Redskins coach had a feeling his team was going to come back.
And they did, beating Elida 55-42 to stay unbeaten in the Western Buckeye League. Wapakoneta improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the WBL while Elida drops to 4-4, 2-1.
The Bulldogs came out of the gates and looked sharp early, hitting their first four shots and making 9-of-15 field goals in the first quarter — including three 3-pointers — for a 21-10 lead after one. With 45 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Elida had a 21-8 lead.
Meanwhile, Wapak made 4-of-14 field goals in the first quarter.
“There was probably a lot of panicked faces in the gym, fortunately I wasn’t one of them,” Allen said. “I knew we were going to have to weather it a little bit. Teams are going to come out and get hot.
“We weren’t executing defensively. So I knew once we settled down we felt like we could at least slow them down a little bit. My concern was on the offensive end, their 1-2-2 kind of frustrated us in the beginning. We had to slow down and just pick our time when we could attack.”
Wapakoneta began its comeback in the second quarter. Elida’s offense got cold, making just three free throws in the entire quarter, while Wapakoneta’s steadied and began to knock down shots. The Redskins cut the deficit to 24-20 by the intermission.
The trend continued in the third quarter, as Wapakoneta scored the first eight points of the half to grab a 28-24 lead with 5:07 remaining.
“We always talk about breaking the game into segments, and we thought that first four minutes of the half would be important setting the tone,” Allen said. “Coming out of halftime, we wanted to go with more of a defensive team, to kind of control them and we figured our offense would take care of itself.”
Elida didn’t go away, however. The Bulldogs clawed their way back by scoring on five-straight possessions to grab back the lead at 35-34 with 25 seconds remaining in the quarter.
At that point, Wapakoneta began an 11-0 run that put the Redskins up 45-35 with 4:29 remaining in the game.
“We just don’t stick to our game plan,” Elida co-coach Elise Jenkins said. “When it gets in the heat of the moment, when the other team starts to get some momentum, they break down mentally. And when they break down mentally they start playing one against five. And we can’t get over that hurdle with our girls. As much as we’ve tried, they just kind of forget everything we do on offense that’s been working and they go back to the bad habits.
“We have to learn to pull it together, realize we are a good team and go back to what works for us.”
Elida’s final gasp came when Sabrina Kline hit a 3-pointer with 1:36 remaining to cut the lead to 47-40. However, Wapakoneta answered in a big way on its next possession. Megan Watt was fouled in the process of scoring a bucket. The foul was called intentional and she drained both free throws. When Wapak got the ball back, Riley Culver hit a shot to put her team up 53-39 with 1:19 remaining.
Watt turned in a big game for Wapak, leading all scorers with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Sara Warner had 14 points and Carly Buzzard scored 11 points. Wapakoneta made 7-of-14 3-pointers and hit 14-of-17 free throws.
“Megan’s been steady for us, she’s done this a couple times now, kept us in ball games,” Allen said. “She stayed steady for us and really kept us in the game.”
Kline led Elida with 11 points while Cassidy Slusher and Ashley Lowry both had nine points.
“Every team that we’ve played so far, we’re always the least fundamental,” Elida co-coach Chrissy Billiter said. “Wapak’s a great team, they’ve got some good ball-handlers. It wasn’t so much our defense, we are lacking a lot on offense and that’s our job to go fix it.”