DELPHOS – As Grant Csukker headed to the locker room after Delphos St. John’s 51-44 boys basketball win over Lima Central Catholic on Sunday the Blue Jays coach Aaron Elwer told him he’d played the best game of his career.
It would be hard to disagree. The numbers don’t lie. The 6-1 senior’s 12 points were a career high, one point ahead of the 11 he scored against New Knoxville on Friday night.
Jared Wurst did the expected when he scored 22 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to lead the Blue Jays (8-3). And he answered a 12-0 LCC run that had cut a 13-point St. John’s lead to a single point in the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws and a strong inside move for a bucket to quell the Thunderbirds’ surge.
But even Csukker might have been a little surprised to be the No. 2 scoring threat behind Wurst on Sunday. He described himself as somewhere around St. John’s fourth or fifth leading scorer for the season. “I probably average around three points a game,” he said.
Most of his points against LCC came on drives to the basket and he mixed in a 3-pointer. He scored all 13 of his points in the middle two quarters.
“I just kind of looked to attack, get to rim, get fouled and make my free throws. Lately I’ve been working on that,” he said.
Elwer said, “Grant had a good game. He’s had some stretches in games but not consistently for four quarters. He works hard. When you see guys do that in practice you want them to be successful in games and today he was.”
St. John’s led by five points, 31-26, at halftime and appeared to be working on building a comfortable lead and closing out its rivalry game early for much of the second half.
The Blue Jays were up 43-32 after three quarters and added two more points to their lead on an inside move by the 6-4 Wurst in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
But a 3-pointers by Dominic Riepenhoff and Shaun Thomas, a 15-footer by Rossy Moore, an inside move for a score by Michael Jay Riepenhoff and two free throws by Bigzz Johnson made it a 45-44 game with 2 ½ minutes to play.
“In the second half we continued to battle and got ourselves an opportunity but continued to make immature plays,” LCC coach Frank Kill said. “We are youthful and making a lot of mistakes. That’s what you get when you play young kids. We’re still trying to find an identity..”
The Thunderbirds (6-6) went with a different starting lineup with Moore getting his first start of the season. He led LCC with 12 points and Johnson scored 10.
“We were looking for some energy that we hadn’t had for a while. He’s a bundle of fire,” Kill said about Moore.
If there was one statistic that burned a hole in LCC’s stats sheet and its game plan, it was rebounding. St. John’s had 25 rebounds to only 13 for the Thunderbirds.
“They just wanted it more than our guys. If you’re not going to box out you’d better go get the rebound,” Kill said. “Unfortunately we didn’t do either of those. They had guys who went and got the ball.”
Elwer agreed that the Blue Jays displayed a lot of “want to” when it came to retrieving rebounds.
“It definitely is something we talk about every day. It’s a key to victory for us to be even on the boards. Today, obviously, we were more than even on the boards. Our pursuit was relentless. We got a lot of second and third opportunities that allowed us to stretch our lead,” he said.
Wurst said St. John’s survived LCC’s fourth-quarter run by “just staying sound in what we were doing, not getting out of control and just doing what coach told us to do — play within ourselves and not try to do too much.”
Getting a win in this rivalry game was something for all the Blue Jays to celebrate. “It’s a huge rivalry. Everybody looks forward to this game. It’s special playing on Sunday afternoon, too. The atmosphere is just crazy,” Wurst said.