ST. MARYS — Down 43-38 against St. Marys with just over two minutes left in the game, Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley called time out and decided to evoke Urban Meyer for inspiration.
The Cougars responded by getting two turnovers and hitting two clutch 3-pointers, one from Nate Place and one from Drew Bagley with 11 seconds left in the game, to give Van Wert the 44-43 victory over St. Marys in a Western Buckeye League showdown Friday night.
“At the time out I used the Urban Meyer line, ‘Guys, I need you the most right now. I need you to give me your very best,’ and we got a couple of turnovers and we hit two three’s and our guys responded to the challenge tonight.”
With the win, Van improves to 4-2 for the season and evens its WBL mark at 1-1. St. Marys slips to 3-5 and falls to 0-2 in league action.
“To win on the road and I don’t care who it is is a challenge and tonight was an absolute challenge for us,” Mark Bagley said. “St. Marys did a lot of great things but somehow, someway our kids kept on fighting and we found a way.”
St. Marys head coach Craig Szymczak knows this was a game that got away but was proud of his team’s effort.
“We played great defense,” Szymczak said. “We limited them to 16 or 18 points in the second half. We contested a lot of shots and for the most part in the second half we limited them to one chance. I think their last two 3-pointers were their only two (in the second half).”
In a game dominated by tough defense by both squads, Drew Bagley turned out to be the most consistent Cougar offensive weapon after finishing with a game-high 20 points. Teammate Place followed with 13 points.
A 2-3 zone stymied the Van Wert offense early on and the Cougars 1-2-2 press and 2-3 sagging zone curtailed the Roughriders’ effort and after the first half, Van Wert owned a 26-20 advantage.
In the third quarter, St. Marys upped its defensive pressure and forced numerous Cougar turnovers that the Roughriders converted into points and outscored Van Wert 13-4 in the third period to grab a 33-30 advantage going into the final eight minutes.
“A lot of that happen because we turned the ball over and let them get in transition and they scored and then we had a hard time attacking their zone,” Mark Bagley said. “We had some really careless turnovers and then it snowballed in the third quarter.”
Coincidentally, Drew Bagley scored all four of Van Wert’s points in the fourth quarter and the lone field goal.
The Cougars, who scored two points in the last two and a half period, erased the slim St. Marys lead after scoring back-to-back buckets to go up 34-33 with 6:16 left in the game. For the next two minutes the lead would exchange hands five times and with 4:08 left in the game, the Roughriders led 39-38.
St. Marys would build up the five-point advantage setting up the exciting finish.
For St. Marys, Max Mielke finished with 18 points and Braedon Dunlap chipped in 13 points. Adding some valuable minutes off the bench was Ethan Stiger who finished with five points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
Hurting St. Marys down the stretch was the loss of Carter Ballweg to an injury in the second half especially on the defensive end.
“We had to rely a little more on our bench with Carter getting hurt there and being out most of the second half,” Szymczak said. “I think that hurt us on the defensive end. It cut our length down and Carson stepped up and Bryce (Hemmelgarn) stepped up and they did some good things and on that last shot there I think we had a hand in his face and he (Bagley) knocked the shot down.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.