DAYTON — It was, to be honest, the most exciting offensive play Columbus Grove had come up with in quite a while.
But it wasn’t the last one for the Bulldogs in a 58-53 win over New Boston Glenwood in their Division IV boys basketball state tournament semifinal on Friday. Far from it.
Columbus Grove had tumbled from a one-point halftime lead to a 10-point deficit as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked off the scoreboard clock.
But one second before the clock rolled over to 0:00, Gabe Clement connected on a halfcourt shot to bring the Bulldogs within seven points going into the final quarter.
From there, Columbus Grove went on to hit 7 of its 8 shots in the fourth quarter, including its final seven in a row, to advance to Sunday’s state championship game against Botkins at the University of Dayton Arena.
While a direct line can’t be drawn from the halfcourt shot to everything good that happened for Columbus Grove in the final quarter it certainly had a role.
“That made the game seem more manageable at that time,” Columbus Grove coach Chris Sautter said.
And, no kidding, it was something the Bulldogs had practiced in a leave no stone unturned approach.
“We actually do that the day before every game. We practice halfcourt shots. Usually there is a Gatorade riding on the line. You just never know when you’ll need to hit one,” Sautter said.
Blake Reynolds (22 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists), Tayt Birnesser (14 points) and Clement (12 points) led Columbus Grove (25-2). Kyle Sexton, a 6-5 post player, led Glenwood (24-3) with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Reynolds, who is Columbus Grove’s career scoring leader, and Birnesser, who is No. 2 on that list, combined for 19 of the Bulldogs’ 21 points in the fourth quarter.
Columbus Grove jumped out to an 18-12 lead after one quarter. But for most of the second and third quarters Glenwood was more often the aggressor.
“I thought we did a nice job in the first quarter and then for about the next 2 1/2 quarters it seemed like we forgot to score or forgot how to score. They mixed things up defensively and challenged shots at the rim,” Sautter said.
“When they got it to 10 points a lot of that was winning 50-50 balls and getting offensive rebounds and for a stretch we weren’t very good defensively. They were kicking our tails on the glass and on 50-50 balls. But give our kids credit. We hung in there defensively and made the plays down the stretch like you’d expect.”
“If I were coaching anybody else I’d be concerned. But with the experience we have and the situations we’ve been in and we’ve won 51 games the last two years, 70 games the last three years, I just have a lot of faith in these guys they’ll find ways to get wins and they have,” he said.
Clement said the players were thinking the same way. “I was just saying to everyone that we’re fine. I trust these guys, we trust each other so we’re fine.”
Columbus Grove was still searching for a way to win with 3:53 left in the game, though, when it was down by five points, 51-46.
That’s when Birnesser hit back-to-back threes in the span of 57 seconds to bring the Bulldogs back to within one point at 53-52. Those were the first points he had scored since hitting two threes and a pair of free throws early in the first quarter.
“They were guarding me pretty well and I don’t think I was as aggressive as I could have been. But I just kind of waited and got open there at the end and Blake found me and I just knocked them down,” Birnesser said.
“Tayt does what Tayt does — steps up and hits big shots,” Sautter said.
Columbus Grove went ahead for the first time since early in the third quarter on a bucket by Reynolds to make it 54-53 with 1:47 left in the game. Reynolds scored again and Clement scored on a lay-up in the final seconds.
Glenwood coach Adam Cox said, “They made some big shots. No. 3 (Birnesser) made those two threes that gave them some momentum. We had done such a good job on him from the end of the first quarter to the fourth quarter. He hit those two big threes that took it from seven points to one point in two possessions.
“They played a great fourth quarter. They dialed it up when they needed to,” he said.
Glenwood played the final 4:23 of the game without the player it needed most when Sexton fouled out.
“It took the wind out of us,” Cox said. “I thought we were going to pull it out without Kyle. Kyle picking up that fifth foul was definitely big. I think if we’d had Kyle we win that game.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.