Boys basketball: Van Wert heads to regional finals

BOWLING GREEN — Rewind to Feb. 10. Van Wert has beaten Elida 56-53 to extend a modest three-game winning streak and improve the Cougars record to 12-7.

Even though Van Wert was victorious and was starting to put things together after a roller coaster start of the season that saw the team lose close game after close game. Getting the win was first and foremost but how they got the win did not sit well with the Cougars and the coaching staff.

After discussing the defense and the team taking it to another level on both ends of the court, the Cougars three game win streak has now reached six with the final one a 49-42 win over Rossford Thursday night to send Van Wert for a chance to play for a berth in the final four when they tackle Rocky River Lutheran West at 4 p.m, Saturday.

“I think we had a game earlier in the year where our coach jumped on us for our defensive intensity and I think after that moment, after that film session, our practice intensity turned up and I think it translates into our game and in the past few weeks super great defense and that leads to better offense because we have five athletes all the time. We have shooters in the corner so I think that combination and our defensive intensity runs it.”

Since the win over Elida, Van Wert has given up 50 or more points once.

In the win over the Bulldogs, a smothering defense and precision perimeter shooting led to the win.

The Cougars were an effective (9-of-19) 47.4 from behind the 3-point arc as they hit nine treys on the night. From the field, Van Wert hit 47 percent of their shots. Conversely, Rossford was 40 percent from the field and an anemic 19 percent from treyland.

Cougar Aiden Pratt led all scorers with 22 points as he connected on a trio of treys and scored nine of those points in the fourth quarter. Teammate Carson Smith who had three three’s on the night finished with 15 points.

Defensively, the Cougars continued to shine in the postseason as they once again had the arduous task of dealing with another big man in Rossford’s Derek Vorst and Van Wert proved to be up for the task as they limited him to 10 points. Brenden Revels, who finished with 12 points, was held to one point in the second half.

Van Wert’s sharp shooting began early and it helped the Cougars to a 28-25 lead at halftime. The Cougars, who opened the game with the first five points, a bucket by Carson Smith and a 3-pointer by Nate Phillips, got the Van Wert faithful into the game early.

The Cougars lead until the 2:31 mark when Rossford’s Revels, who had 11 first half points, hit a short jumper to put the Bulldogs up by one, 11-10 and they carried a 14-13 advantage after the first period.

A modest 8-3 run to open the second period gave the Cougars their biggest lead, 21-16, with 6:22 left in the half but the Bulldogs stormed back to knot the score at 16-16 and it because a see-saw affair the final four minutes of the second quarter and it was the Cougars maintaining the 28-25 lead at halftime.

With the lead, Van Wert, as was the pattern against St. Marys, decided to slow down its offense considerably, attacking the basket only when there was an open shot and it led to a low scoring third period with the Cougars outscoring the Bulldogs 6-5. Going into the final eight minutes, Van Wert led 34-30.

Van Wert maintained that same offensive strategy in the fourth quarter and broke out to a 42-35 lead with 3:32 left in the game after Pratt popped a trey from the lefthand side

“It was kind of how we thought the game would go,” Laudick said. “We thought it would be a fairly close game. Rossford is a really good opponent and they presented some challenges. Any time you can throw 6-10 out there and we don’t have 6-10 and that presents some challenges for us….but I thought we did a really good job of containing their shooters.”

Van Wert was no stranger to facing a man of Vorst size as earlier in the district finals the Cougars faced St. Marys big man Austin Parks.

Pratt, who has fared well both on the offensive and defensive end, is not afraid to mix it up in size. The standout senior also knows he has plenty of help from his teammates.

“My mindset is let the game come to me and attack them when I see opportunities. When they are sinking in I have to step out and make shots for my team and then when I am making shots they have to come out and that is when I get driving lanes again or I kick to shooters after that,” Pratt said. “When I see 6-10 it is not ‘oh I can’t finish It’s either I go finish or pass it to shooters who are open.”

But defending the big man was just one aspect of the Cougars’ defense as they also had a tenacious effort against Rossford’s guards, similar to what Van Wert did against Defiance and it’s all-first team WBL performer Bradyn Shaw.

“I think our district games really set us up for a game like this,” Laudick said. “When you guard an Austin Parks you kind of get a game plan to guard Derek Vorst and when you have guard Bradyn Shaw, you have to guard the Revels, their point guard and he made somee tough step back shots and I don’t know if you could have guarded him any better.

“Our district prep kind of set us up for tonight’s game and that is what we had to sell to our guys. We have to guard this guy like Shaw. We got to guard this guy like Johns….when our guys can picture that sort of thing and get them to buy in, good things happen.”

Lutheran West 71, Sandusky 55

Lutheran West saw four players score in double-digits with Jayson Levis leading the way with 26 points and nine rebounds. Derek Fairley and Junior Kambomba each chipped in 12 points and Joshua Meyer added 10 points.

For Sandusky, Jason Henlon scored 14 points and Daylan Green added 11.

The Longhorns shot 56.2 percent from the floor and a blistering 53.8 from behind the 3-point arc. Sandusky hit 40.4 percent of its shot but just 27 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Longhorns outrebounded Sandusky 36-24.

Rocky Road Lutheran West never trailed against Sandusky as they broke out to a 20-15 after the first eight minutes and then opened up a 43-27 lead by halftime.

Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.