Van Wert’s Claire Butler looks to attack the basket during the first half of the Lady Cougars’ 43-41 loss to Bath on Thursday night. Butler was key in Van Wert coming from a dozen points behind. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
VAN WERT — Playing against Ohio’s tenth-ranked Division II team, Van Wert coach Lance Moonshower knew his Lady Cougars would need to be at their best to pull off a big upset.
They nearly were, and they nearly did.
Bath, however, escaped with a 43-41 nail-biter to stay atop the Western Buckeye League at 6-0. The Wildkittens are 15-1 overall, with their only loss coming at the hands of Wadworth, a team which is still undefeated and ranked second in the state in Division I. Van Wert is 4-2 and 13-4.
After a first quarter of four lead changes and three ties, the visitors led the rest of the way and threatened to pull away several times. The feisty Cougars, however, continued to battle back and made it really interesting in the fourth quarter.
Bath’s Bailey Dackin drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the right corner to end the third period at 40-33, Kittens. Cougar post Alexis Dowdy, who had perhaps the best game of her career, started the fourth period by muscling in a put-back to cut the lead to five. Bath’s Madison Dackin then split a pair at the line for a six-point edge at 41-35. Dowdy was fouled on a put-back of her own miss and she hit nothing but net on both freebies to get Van Wert within four with 3:19 to play.
Bath’s 6’0 post, Bri Smith, hit only the first of two foul shots, and Dowdy’s layup cut the Kittens’ lead to 42-39 with 1:28 left. After a Bath turnover, Erin Morrow powered inside, and her layup circled the rim and dropped.
With 48 seconds to go, the Lady Cougars trailed by just one. Van Wert’s Kaitlynn Hall then knocked the ball off of a Wildkitten foot and out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Cougs.
Dowdy drove the lane and was fouled at 0:19, but she misfired on both free throws. Bath corralled the rebound, and Jenna Hollar was fouled in the backcourt. She hit only the first of two free throws at 0:13, and Van Wert got the rebound, but was unable to get off a decent shot in the remaining seconds.
A desperation heave at the buzzer was far off the mark, allowing the visitors to escape, despite not having a field goal in the last eight minutes.
With the chance to forge a tie for the WBL lead now gone, it was a sad scene outside the Cougar locker room afterwards.
“They’re disappointed to say the least,” said Moonshower. “They were hyped up about this game, and I thought they played their butts off. We got down twelve there in the first half, and they could’ve easily just folded up. They didn’t, they kept fighting, they stuck with what we were trying to do. I just feel so bad for these girls.”
In the first quarter, Van Wert dominated the boards 8-4 and hit all four of its free throws, but had five turnovers. Bath missed all four of its freebies, but sank three treys (to Van Wert’s none), and led 13-10 after one.
The first quarter ended on a bad note for the home team. Bath missed two free throws with 11 seconds left, but snared the errant second one and converted a three that was the beginning of a 14-3 run. That streak put the Kittens up 24-13 with 3:05 left in the second period.
The Cougs’ Claire Butler converted a traditional three-point play, but Bath scored four in a row to lead 28-16 at the two-minute mark. Butler countered with a carbon copy of her first three-point play, and Dowdy scored on a buzzer-beating breakaway layup (assist Alexa Dunlap) to make it 28-21 at the half.
The Kittens got the first four points of the second half to lead 32-21 and threaten once more to pull away, but buckets by Dowdy (assist Morrow), Cheyenne Handy, and Dowdy again (assist Morrow) had the Cougs right back in it, trailing 32-27 at the 6:53 mark.
Van Wert, surprisingly, out-shot the Kittens from the field in the game — 44 percent (15-of-34) to 34 percent (16-of-47) — and from the stripe — 69 percent (9-of-13) to 46 percent (6-of-13). Bath, however, was better on the boards, 26-22, and had fewer turnovers, 8-13.
Dowdy, with 17, and Smith, with 11, were the game’s only double-digit scorers. “When she (Dowdy) is that active, she is really hard to stop, offensively,” said Moonshower. “She got a lot of offensive rebounds and loose balls. Her effort tonight was unbelievable. When she plays like that she’s awfully tough to play against.”
Despite the disappointment, there were plenty of bright spots for the Cougars. “I thought we did a great job of attacking their press,” added Moonshower. “We had a couple of situations early where our spacing wasn’t good, but once we cleared that up and got where we were supposed to be, the girls executed exactly what we worked on. They (the Wildkittens) have got so many good athletes, so many good shooters that you have to pick your poison (on defense), and they drive it so well. We said we’ve got to stop dribble penetration. We generate a lot of stuff off our defense, and I think that’s what kept us in the game.”
The Bath junior varsity (9-6) rolled to a 58-21 win after leading 34-5 at the half. The Wildkittens got 13 points apiece from Bailey Dackin and Brittanie Ulmer. Cassidy Sinning had 13 for Van Wert (7-10).
Score by quarters:
Bath 13 15 12 3 - 43
Van Wert 10 11 12 8 - 41
Smith 11, Brandon 5, Hollar 4, Manley 8, Madison Dackin 8, VanDyne 4, Best 3, Herr 0, Ellie Dackin 0
Van Wert (41)
Jones 3, Hall 0, Dowdy 17, Butler 6, Morrow 4, Handy 7, Bair 4, Moonshower 0, Weigle 0, Dunlap 0