VAN WERT — Columbus Grove has been waiting a year to play this game and it took the Bulldog seniors to come up big to deliver them to the final four.
Columbus Grove’s Tayt Birnesser’s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left helped the Bulldogs beat New Bremen, 50-48, in the Division IV regional finals Friday and the senior wasn’t even supposed to shoot the shot.
With 24.2 seconds left in the game and down 48-47, Columbus Grove head coach Chris Sautter devised a play for Blake Reynolds, but with the Cardinals’ keying on him, the senior Bulldog found an open Birnesser at the top of the key and he calmly swished one through for the 3-pointer with less than 12 seconds left in the game.
With those remaining seconds New Bremen looked to tie it up but the Bulldogs clamped down and layup attempt by David Homan came up short and Columbus Grove’s Trey Sautter yanked down the rebound to secure the victory.
With the win, Columbus Grove (24-2) heads to Dayton in the state semifinals to face the winner of the New Boston Glenwood, a 44-39 winner against Berlin Hiland, at 2 p.m. Friday. New Bremen finishes its year with a 19-9 mark.
“All the credit goes to Blake. We kind of drew it up for me but he found me and all the credit goes to him,” said Birnesser about the winning bucket. Birnesser, who finished with 15 points, hit five treys including two in the final stanza.
“Me, Gabe and Blake and Ethan have played so many tournament games we know what to do and God just came over us tonight and we got the win,” Birnesser added “New Bremen’s a good ball club they definitely are physical. They are state football champs.
Reynolds had another double-double night with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Clement finished with 10 points.
Bulldog head coach Chris Sautter said it came down to his senior play.
“That one took a few year’s off my life,” Sautter said. “Tayt stepped up and hit a big shot. Gabe stepped up and hit a big one and Blake does what Blake does for 32 minutes and when you need your seniors to make big plays they stepped up and made them.”
In a game that was physical from the opening tip-off the two teams battled back and forth in the first two quarters and New Bremen took a 22-18 lead into halftime.
Columbus Grove appeared to take control of the game when they went on a 13-2 run to open the second half and grabbed a 31-24 lead but the Cardinals responded with a 9-2 run to knot the score going into the final eight minutes.
It remained tight for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter with neither team having a larger lead that two points, but New Bremen opened up its biggest lead of the second half when they marched to a 46-41 lead with 2:18 left in the game and seemingly the momentum that may lead to a win.
But a big 3-pointer from Trey Sautter and another from Gabe Clement helped the Bulldogs reclaim the lead 47-46 with 1:30 left on the clock. Cardinal Reece Busse’s two made free throws gave New Bremen back the lead with less than a minute to go setting up the exciting finish.
“I wasn’t sure when we were down by five or whatever it was with like four minutes to go that they (New Bremen) can hold us and get by us on the dribble but give our kids credit they got stopped. They got buckets and Tayt hit the big one to give us the win so I am happy for the victory. Happy for our seniors and happy for last year’s seniors who didn’t get this chance and we are excited to keep playing.”
Sautter added that the physical play is something that has been happening since the Ottoville victory in the district finals and it has continued that way since then and his team has learned to adapt.
“It’s tournament basketball,” Sautter said. “Put your hard hat on. Pack your lunch box and get ready for action. I think our kids are getting used to that style of play and we are working with them to get them used to that but give them credit we are competing and doing everything we can and we are fortunate we made that last shot down the stretch.”
New Bremen’s Busse ended the night with a game-high 16 points.