Crestview junior Preston Zaleski drives into the paint during the first half of the Knights’ 53-40 win at Bluffton on Friday night. Crestview jumped out to a 14-0 in the game. Zaleski scored two points in the win. (Times Bulletin/John Parent)
By Sean LaFontaine
Times Bulletin Correspondent
BLUFFTON — The Crestview Knights took to the road Friday night to take on the Bluffton Pirates in Northwest Conference action. It wasn’t pretty at times, but in the end the Knights fended off the pesky Pirates, 53-40.
As they have for most of the season, Crestview got off to a fast start. The Knights opened up the game on a 14-0 run and didn’t allow a Bluffton basket until the final seconds of the opening quarter. Senior Damian Helm led the way for Crestview with nine of their 14 points and fellow senior Cameron Etzler added a three. The quick start put the Knights ahead 14-2 after one.
Crestview expanded their lead to 17 at one point during the second quarter and entered the locker room with a 24-9 lead, but the Pirates didn’t back down.
After a Tyson Bolenbaugh free throw opened the scoring in the second half, the Pirates hit back-to-back threes to cut the Crestview lead down to 10. Bluffton was even able to the lead down to nine with just over two minutes left to play in the third after a basket and the foul by Brady Parkins.
But every time Bluffton started to gain momentum, the Knights shut the door.
With the lead down to nine at 34-25, senior Brock Rolsten came up with a big steal and break away lay-up to kill any momentum the Pirates had gained. Helm added two free throws a few possessions later to give Crestview a 38-25 lead after three.
After the Knights extended their lead again to 17 early the fourth, Bluffton scored nine unanswered points to pull within eight, 45-37 with just over two and a half minutes to play in the game.
But Crestview answered the bell one last time.
The Knights scored the next seven points to extend their lead to 52-37 with under a minute to play. Etzler led the Crestview charge with five points, including hitting on 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
Crestview coach Jeremy Best gave a lot of credit to the Bluffton defense.
“We saw some looks on our guy’s faces that we haven’t seen in quite some time and I think Bluffton had a lot to do with that,” said Best. “They were aggressive, contested a lot of things, and slowed down our transition. We had a lot of opportunities to get things in the open floor, but our decision-making was poor.”
While the Bluffton defense did cause the Knights some trouble, Best was pleased with how his team responded to their own struggles.
“I thought we were flat at times, but give our guys credit. They found a way. It was up to them to search and find things on floor, make better decisions. When you have a veteran group of guys, they have to be the ones to fight themselves out of that situation, and I thought we responded well.”
Helm led the Crestview attack Friday night with 16 points while Bolenbaugh and sophomore Connor Lautzenheiser each had 11.
The Knights shot 20-for-45 (44 percent) from the field and 5-of-16 (31 percent) from three.
The victory moved Crestview to 20-0 on the season, and 7-0 in the conference. The win ensures the Knights will get at least a share of the NWC title. A victory over Columbus Grove next Friday would give them the conference title outright.
For now Crestview will turn their attention to Saturday night when they will again hit the road to take on New Knoxville.
Score by quarters
Crestview 14 10 14 15- 53
Bluffton 2 7 16 15- 40
Zaleski 2, Co. Lautzenheiser 11, Helm 16, Rolsten 2, Rickard 2, Etzler 9, Bolenbaugh 11
Bricker 10, Phillips 3, Kistler 9, Ault 7, Rumer 8, Parkins 3