FINDLAY — For more than three quarters, Elida played catch up.
But just when the Bulldogs did that, Celina zipped away for a 53-45 victory in a Division II district semifinal at Liberty-Benton on Wednesday.
Top-seeded Celina (21-3) will play St. Marys (16-8) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Liberty-Benton for the district title. The Roughriders beat Wapakoneta (12-12) 52-45 in the second game of the district semifinals.
The theme of the opener was Celina continually setting the pace and making Elida fight back. After falling behind 9-1 to start the game, Elida came all the way back to cut it to 16-15 at 2:20 in the second.
Celina then started the second half with a 34-22 lead and had a 38-31 edge early in the fourth. But every time, Elida’s strong defense and timely shooting closed the gap. Elida’s final surge gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 42-41 when Josh Press nailed a long 3-pointer with 3:29 remaining.
“It was a heck of an effort by our kids to get back into the game,” Elida coach Denny Thompson said. “When it was 9-1, we found some energy. When we took that 12-point deficit (in the third) and to give the effort needed to get back into the game … that’s a characteristic of our seniors. Clark Etzler’s and Austin Allemeier’s efforts tonight were outstanding.”
The only problem? Celina’s effort to finish the game. The Bulldogs immediately answered Elida’s lead with a 10-0 run for a 51-42 lead with less than a minute to go. The big bucket in that stretch was senior guard Eric Moeder’s 3-pointer to give Celina a 45-42 lead with 2:12 left.
“That was huge,” Celina coach Chris Bihn said. “He’s done that a few times for us. He’s really become a nice shooter and he defends like a son of a gun.
“You get down to that stretch, the rebounds have to be yours, the loose balls have to be yours, you gotta want it more than they do. I thought we executed a lot better late in the game.”
Grant Laffin led Celina with 11 points while both Caleb Hoyng and Ryan Hoyng finished with 10 points apiece. Ryan Hoyng also had eight assists, three steals and four rebounds.
“(Elida) defended,” Bihn said. “I bet we watched 15 of their games this year and I haven’t seen them defend like that.”
Allemeier especially turned in a solid defensive effort on Ryan Hoyng, the Western Buckeye League Player of the Year.
“We didn’t do anything special,” Thompson said. “That was all Austin.”
Allemeier also finished with 14 points while Press had eight points.
St. Marys 52, Wapakoneta 45
Trailing 38-18 with 4:08 remaining in the third, Wapakoneta made a mammoth 23-4 run to cut it 42-39 with 4:37 remaining in the game. But St. Marys made all of its final 10 free throws to hold off the Redskins.
“You gotta give Wapak credit, they didn’t quit, they kept coming and coming and coming,” St. Marys coach Dan Hegemier said. “We’re just real happy we’ve got kids who can go to the foul line and hit free throws.”
Josh Young led the Roughriders with 18 points, Quinn Zaerr had 13 points and Nathan Wilker finished with 10 points. Corey Crawford scored 14 points for Wapakoneta and Ethan Good added 13 points.
Hegemier said one of the keys for his team was scoring in the paint, which 6-foot-5 senior center Zaerr did well.
“Quinn was good,” Hegemier said. “He came in and did a great job for us, we probably should have thrown it in to him more.
“I’m must glad we won. That’s a WBL team. I’ve very proud St. Marys is playing for the district championship.”