BOWLING GREEN — When Van Wert’s Aidan Pratt sank two free throws to cut the lead to 44-37 in the fourth quarter against Rocky River Lutheran West, the Cougar faithful were hoping for some more postseason magic.
However, the Cougar comeback fell short as Lutheran West held off the late Van Wert surge to collect the 53-37 victory and the Division II regional championship Saturday night. The Longhorns advance to the state semifinals. Van Wert ends its year with an 18-8 mark.
The Longhorns shot a blistering 62 percent from the field. The Cougars who had been effective from the outside in the playoff run, were 1 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc and 36.6 percent from the floor.
Rocky River is very talented,” Van Wert head coach Ben Laudick said. “I thought our game plan was really solid. We just had a tough second quarter where nothing seemed to go our way. We had some good looks and we got some really good looks close to the basket and it just seemed to not go in.”
Lutheran West, riding the hot hand of guards Jayson Levis and Dennis Fairley, opened up a 15-8 lead after the first eight minutes and then when the Cougars’ offense sputtered and was limited to two points in the second quarter, Lutheran West held a commanding 29-10 lead with 16 minutes to play.
The Cougars began to slowly chip away at the huge lead and sliced six points off it in the third quarter and heading into the final period were down 37-24.
“I have said it all year long,” Laudick said. “We have a really resilient bunch of guy led by our six seniors and they have been in some situations and I knew there wasn’t going to be any quit whatsoever. We made it pretty interesting but we didn’t make it all the way interesting. It is just a testament to these guys and the fight they have and the message in the locker room that if they cared that much in the game of life, they are going to go and do big things.”
The 37 points scored was the lowest offensive showing by the Cougars this season.
Laudick said Lutheran West had great length and quickness and this helped continually thwart the Cougars’ offense.
“One (Derek Fairley) and (three) Junior Kembomba have active hands and the twins behind them to protect the basket and they made things challenging at times. We didn’t overestimate or underestimate their athleticism. We just knew it was something that we have to weather the storm a little bit at times and it caused us some problems in the second quarter. The other three quarters I thought we handled it pretty well.”
Pratt finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. Unfortunately for the Cougars, he was the lone player to crack double digits in points.
For Lutheran West, Levis finished with 18 points and Fairley contributed 15 points. Matthew Meyer scored 11.
With time winding down with the Longhorns on the verge of winning, Laudick pulled his seniors and starters to honor them for their efforts and an exciting year.
“When I look at the stats at the end of the year, I am probably going to have to replace 90 to 95 percent of scoring, rebounding, assists, etc. They did it all for us and they have done it for us for a very long time,” Laudick said. “They are going to leave a hole in our program … but they definitely left a mark. Not many Van Wert basketball teams have made it this far and we sure would have liked to get one step farther. At the same time, when we reflect on this in a week, a year or 10 years from now we are going to say this was a lot of fun and a core memory we are going to remember forever.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.