BLUFFTON — Coming into Friday night’s game against Bluffton, Columbus Grove head coach Chris Sautter came up with a relatively simple game plan and that was to play tough man-to-man defense in order thwart the Pirates’ precision perimeter shooting.
The move paid off as the Bulldogs’ clamp down defense continually hampered the Pirates’ offense attack and it resulted in a tough fought 49-43 Columbus Grove win against Bluffton in a Northwest Conference clash.
With the win, Columbus Grove remains the lone undefeated team in the NWC at 4-0 and the Bulldogs improve to 10-4 for the season. Bluffton slips to 3-2 in conference play and 11-4 overall.
“The kids executed the game plan pretty well on both ends,” Columbus Grove head coach Chris Sautter said. “We knew if they could make threes we would be in trouble and that was our main goal.”
Mission accomplished on that front as Bluffton hit one 3-pointer in the first half and two in the final two quarters.
“Our game plan was to switch everything and try to keep it on one side of the floor,” Sautter said. “We weren’t going to help off people very often because watching film every time you help they do a good job of finding the open man and hitting shots. We were staying home. It might have seem crazy there when there was no help on the dribble-drive but that was the game plan and it kept them from going off on the 3-point line and at least tonight it worked.”
Bluffton head coach Todd Boblitt said credit the Columbus Grove defense.
“I thought they pressured us really well,” Boblitt said. “They used their quick hands really well and our guys were having a little trouble adjusting early to how active their hands were on defense and I thought that was the key early in the game. We just never found a good offensive rhythm and a large part of that was due to how they were able to guard us.”
Columbus Grove’s Jared Piercefield finished with 16 points and Luke Denecker added 14 points. Mason Soper was held to four points but grabbed 10 rebounds.
Defensively, the Pirates put in a solid defensive effort in stopping some of the Bulldogs’ top scorers but as is the case in games like this it was other Columbus Grove players stepping up and producing points.
At the onset of the game, Bluffton threw up a defense that was focused on stopping Blake Reynolds and Tayt Birnesser and it worked. However, what the Pirates didn’t count on was the scoring of Evan Hopkins and Grayson Flores. The Pirate duo combined for three treys in the opening minutes of the first to throw a monkey wrench in Bluffton’s defensive plan and the two continually hit big shots throughout the night to help secure the win.
“I was proud of our guys’ defensive effort,” Boblitt said. “We were trying to take away certain guys and certain actions that we felt like they were going to run, and I thought we did that for most part. The big difference is they had some guys step up and really play well in Hopkins and Flores and you have to tip your cap to those guys because they made plays and continued to make plays.”
Hopkins finished with a team-high 13 points and Flores added 12 points. Birnesser chipped in 10 points.
“I thought Gabe (Clement), Hop (Hopkins) and Grayson (Flroes) did a great job at the start of the game,” Sautter said. “They (Bluffton) took Tayt (Birnesser) and Blake (Reynolds) at the start of the game with the triangle and two and those guys stepped up and hit some big shots. You need other guys to step up and score points, and it was good to see Hopkins step up. He has been struggling from the perimeter but hit some big shots tonight.
Even though Columbus Grove is in the driver’s seat as far as the NWC race is concerned, Sautter said the Bulldogs are not looking at standings at all and focusing on the next game.
“We decided a week or two ago that we are just focusing on the next game and not worried about anything beyond that,” Sautter said. “We have a lot of young kids and a lot of inexperienced kids, and I think we were putting too much pressure on them that we should win by this many points or beat this certain team. We said you know `let’s focus on tonight and win tonight.’”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.