ADA — When Bath junior forward Taren Sullivan went high and pulled down the rebound with 10 seconds, securing the win, virtually every Wildcat player, coach and fan knew what it meant.
Bath had just beaten Elida 56-50 on Saturday for its first-ever boys basketball district title and is headed to the regional semifinals at Bowling Green.
“It is a super exciting win,” Bath coach Doug Davis said. “When they shot and we rebounded the ball it felt great. This is big for the entire Bath community.”
Bath used all the tools at its disposal — balanced scoring, pressure defense and timely free throw shooting — to knock off Elida at the Campoli Court at King Horn Center at Ohio Northern University before a standing-room only crowd.
The win gives the Wildcats (22-4) the Division II district title and the right to meet Cleveland Benedictine in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday at The Stroh Center at Bowling Green State University.
The game was the third time the two have faced each other this season and Bath has claimed all three games by a combined total of 12 points. The two teams finished the Western Buckeye League as co-champions this season.
The Bulldogs and Wildcats battled back and forth with Bath taking a 15-8 lead after one quarter, Elida bouncing back to grab a 22-21 lead at the half, and then the two going to the final period tied at 36-36.
Elida (17-9) jumped out on a 6-0 run to begin the final quarter and things were starting to look good for Bulldogs fans. But Bath regrouped and went on an 11-0 run to regain the lead at 47-42 with 3:35 left to play.
Dakota Mathias then connected on a deep 3-pointer to get Elida back to within 47-45. Mathias ended the night with 27 points and 13 rebounds, but was the only Bulldog to score in double digits.
Bath decided to go man-to-man defensively on Mathias and Chambers and Hayden Atkins took turns guarding the Elida standout.
“They changed up guys and made it hard on me,” Mathias said. “I tried to find the open man when I could.”
Bath went to its four-corner offense and ate almost a minute off the clock before Cole Chambers got loose underneath and scored on a lay-up to put Bath back up 49-45.
An Elida missed field goal was followed by the Wildcats hitting 7-of-8 free throws after the Bulldogs were forced to foul.
“Free throws will win games at this level and they made them,” Elida coach Denny Thompson said. “Overall our defense was pretty good until we were forced to foul. I’m proud of this team as we had some question marks and adversity but we stepped up and tied for the league title.”
Chambers led four Bath players in double digits with his 13-point effort and was joined by Sullivan and Collin Gossard with 11 each while Logan Rockhold added 10 for the Wildcats.
“It is a great feeling, I had the jitters and then settled down,” Chambers said. “I just tried to keep a hand in Mathias’ face, he is a great player.”
After ending 55 years of frustration and futility, Davis was excited and proud about what this team had accomplished.
“This team had great chemistry and they all get along,” Davis said. “We made those free throws after practicing and talking about them. The kids were focused and ready for this outcome.”
NOTES: West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was in attendance and sat courtside to observe Mathias. The Mountaineers have offered a scholarship to the Elida standout.