COLUMBUS — It took resilience – more than once, more than twice, maybe more times than you could count – for Marion Local to win the Division IV boys basketball state championship game 52-51 over Cornerstone Christian Academy on Saturday.
The Flyers were behind by five points three times in the fourth quarter. They fell behind by four points early in the first overtime and needed a 3-pointer by Nathan Bruns with 17 seconds left in that OT to extend the game to a second extra four minutes.
The second overtime was more of the same when they had to battle back from four points down before they won their state championship when Tyler Mescher hit two free throws with two seconds to play and the defense forced Cornerstone into taking a desperation halfcourt shot as time ran out.
There could have been several candidates to be poster boy for this resilience, but possibly none better than Mescher, a 6-2, 230-pound senior.
In the first minute of the game, his first shot was blocked and his second was almost blocked and hit nothing but air.
But when it was all over, Nathan Bruns (18 points, 14 rebounds), Mescher (18 points, 9 rebounds) and Tyler Prenger (10 points, with three 3-pointers) had led Marion Local to it third boys basketball state championship and its first since 2003.
Marion Local (25-4) got to the championship game with an instant classic 56-54 win over Pandora-Gilboa in its state semifinal on Thursday, a game Marion Local coach Kurt Goettemoeller referenced on Saturday.
“I said Thursday what a whale of a game that was, but I think we topped it,” he said.
Marion Local led early and was up 24-22 at halftime on Saturday. But, after Cornerstone led 39-34 with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter, it took a huge 3-pointer from deep in the left corner by Bruns, another from him from the same spot in the first overtime, a perfect cross court pass from Justin Albers on one of those, and the Flyers’ defense pitching a shutout in the last 5:15 of the quarter for them to survive.
Finally, in the second overtime, it came down to Mescher, a 66 percent free throw shooter this season, hitting both shots of a two-shot opportunity with 2.6 seconds to play and the defense getting a stop.
“It’s just awesome, an awesome feeling. I’ve always considered myself a leader so just being the one to get this opportunity is amazing,” Mescher said.
It wasn’t easy to get those two shots to drop, though. The first seemed like it touched around 80 percent of the surface area of the rim and the second grazed the rim, too.
“I think we got a little help from upstairs and it rolled right in,” Mescher said about the first free throw.
“I love this sport so much, I love this team so much. It’s every kid’s dream to play in this game and win it and then it’s like a triple bonus to be two overtimes and be the one to shoot two free throws to help win it. It was a total team effort. It was awesome,” he said.
After Mescher’s shots gave Marion Local a 52-51 lead, Cornerstone tried to get the ball to its two-time Division IV state Player of the Year Michael Bothwell, but Marion Local had him surrounded and the Patriots settled for a halfcourt shot.
Bothwell scored 23 points to lead Cornerstone, the 2016 Division IV state champion, with 23 points.
“They came out and played a great game and made our whole team uncomfortable. They never went away. The only thing I would do differently is win, but that didn’t happen,” Bothwell said.
Cornerstone coach Dan Selle said, “We couldn’t knock them out. They’re not afraid of the big stage, they’ve been here. We had them by five in regulation, four a couple of times in the overtimes and just couldn’t get the knockout punch.”
Talking about Mescher, he said, “He’s not a vegetarian. He eats meat for breakfast. He’s tough as nails.”
Actually Mescher’s breakfast was meat free. “My ritual before every game was to eat a little thing of mac and cheese and that’s what I did again today. I did it before every single game. Put it in the microwave at 7:30 and I was ready to go.”
Five hours later, Marion Local was ready to go celebrate a state championship.
Marion Local is the fourth school ever to win an Ohio state championship in football and boys basketball in the same school year. Marion Pleasant, St. Henry and Cleveland Benedictine are the others.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.