COLUMBUS GROVE — Columbus Grove knew if they were going to beat Bluffton on Friday night that it would have to contain the Pirate scoring duo of of Mason Soper and Luke Denecker.
Columbus Grove held the Pirate pair to a combined 14 points and that helped pave the way to a big 54-30 Northwest Conference victory against Bluffton.
With the win Columbus Grove inches closer to an NWC title by staying unbeaten at 5-0 and remaining undefeated for the season at 15-0. Bluffton slips to 4-2 in conference play and 13-4 for the year.
Columbus Groves’ clamp down defense was the key to the win.
The Bulldogs trio of Ethan Halker, Alex Schneider and Gabe Clement, smothered the Pirates’ top two scorers and held Denecker to 5 points and Soper to 9 points.
“They are a real good basketball team,” Columbus Grove head coach Chris Sautter said. “Mason Soper and Luke Denecker, between the two of them are averaging 35 to 40 points a game so for us to keep the team at 30, after the way we guarded against Van Buren (Columbus Grove gave up 46 points) where we didn’t guard anybody, was refreshing to see.
“They really bought into guarding those two guys and making everything tough for them and offensively I mean we left a lot of points on the floor,” Sautter said. “We missed a lot of shots around the rim. We weren’t great from the free throw line. But we made enough plays to get the win in front of a great crowd and a great atmosphere.”
Sautter added that the defense not only contained Bluffton’s two main scorers but the rest of the team did a solid job of not allowing anyone else to get hot.
“I thought whoever was on (Jared) Piercefield, because he burned us for 17, 18 or 19 last year, was important and I thought Hop (Evan Hopkins) did a great job of keeping him in front and containing him and we made other guys take shots and you want to make somebody else beat you and not let their go-to guys score.”
Sautter also pointed out the effort of Tayt Birnesser’s defensive effort on Levi Hohenbrink and preventing him from hitting from the perimeter and Blake Reynolds manning the paint and not allowing any easy inside buckets.
Bluffton head coach Todd Boblitt said his team was out muscled.
“They were extremely quick on the ball,” Boblitt said. “They were physical with us. We just didn’t match their physicality the majority of the night, probably the entire night. They were the more physical team. We wanted to be the more physical team but they were superior to us tonight.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs had a collective team effort when it came to putting points on the board. Four different Bulldogs scored in double digits with Gabe Clement leading the way with 13 points. Evan Hopkins and Tayt Birnesser each provided 11 points and Blake Reynolds notched 10 points that went along with his 12 rebounds.
While the Bulldog defense was doing its job, the offense had trouble scoring points and after the first quarter was 9-8 in favor of Bluffton.
However, the momentum slowly began to shift in the second period when Columbus Grove opened up a 18-11 advantage when they went on a quick 9-2 run to open the second stanza. Bluffton closed the gap to 18-15 with a small 6-0 run after back-to-back buckets by Tyson Shutler with a little more than three minutes remaining in the half.
But the momentum shifted back to Columbus Grove when they finished off the first half with a 6-2 run that saw Clement pop a 3-pointer with time winding down.
Riding that wave, the Bulldogs, behind its tenacious defensive attack, opened up a 31-19 lead to gain control of the lead and Columbus Grove never relinquished the double-digit advantage.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.