Crestview senior Cam Etzler (5) drives to the hoop as a Grove defender protects the basket during Northwest Conference play in Convoy on Friday night. Etzler finished with 13 points for the Knights, who finished a 22-0 regular season with the overtime win. (Times Bulletin/Angela Stith)
By Sean LaFontaine
Times Bulletin Correspondent
CONVOY – The Crestview Knights hosted their last home game of the season Friday night, but it wasn’t just any home game. It was senior night for seven varsity players, and it had a conference championship and a perfect regular season hanging in the balance.
Columbus Grove came into Ray Etzler Gymnasium and gave Crestview all they could handle, but, in the end, the Knights outlasted the Bulldogs in a 55-48 overtime thriller.
Crestview struggled at times in the first half. They were down by as many as six points midway through the second quarter before they clawed their way back into the game, thanks to sophomore Connor Lautzenheiser.
Lautzenheiser scored seven straight points late in the second quarter to give Crestview a 22-21 advantage. The Knights fouled on a 3-point attempt just before the end of the half, and Jace Darbyshire hit on two of the three attempts to give Grove a 23-22 lead at halftime.
Crestview came out strong with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter. Tyson Bolenbaugh led the charge with four points, while Cam Etzler and Lautzenheiser also added baskets. The spurt put Crestview up 30-23 half way through the stanza.
Just when it looked the Crestview may take over the game, Grove answered with a 10-4 run late in the period to tie the game at 34-34. Damian Helm made a pair of free throws before the end of the quarter to put Crestview up 36-34 after three quarters.
The Knights led by six points with just under five minutes to play in the game, but Columbus Grove again fought back. The Bulldogs ended the half on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 42-42.
After a missed shot by Crestview, Columbus Grove had a chance to win the game. The Bulldogs drew up a side out of bounds play for their center, Will Vorhees, that the Knights sniffed out and stole the inbounds pass. A Lautzenheiser 3-point try for the Knights came up just short and took the game into overtime.
Crestview took command of the game at the start of the extra session. The Knights went on another run, this time a 7-0 spurt to begin overtime. Lautzenheiser stayed hot, and started the scoring with another three, then Etzler followed with a driving layup and Preston Zaleski added a pair of free throws.
After Crestview gave up a four-point play to let the Bulldogs back within three, Vorhees hit a pair of free throws to close the Crestview lead to one at 49-48.
Lautzenheiser made one of two free throws to give Crestview the 50-48 lead with just under 20 seconds to play, giving Columbus Grove one last opportunity. The Knights got the stop they had been looking for, thanks to a block by Zaleski. Helm secured the rebound and hit both of his free throws to put Crestview up 52-48.
After a turnover by Columbus Grove, senior Cain Lautzenheiser banked in a three as time expired to give Crestview a fitting end to their perfect regular season.
After the game Crestview coach Jeremy Best spoke about his teams’ performance and what led to the victory.
“I think it was a combination of things, but mainly our will to win,” said Best. “Columbus Grove played great and Vorhees is a heck of a player. I thought we fought ourselves a little bit early in the game. We couldn’t get a good flow going offensively but Connor (Lautzenheiser) hit some big shots to get us going, and we started to get it on the block more.”
Best also commented about the way his team dealt with adversity throughout the game.
“What you saw tonight was a group of guys that care about each other and pulled though in a tough situation. When you’re playing to do what we were trying to do, I don’t think it was wearing on our kids but it’s only human nature to think about those possibilities. Give our kids credit.”
The victory secured a perfect regular season for the Knights as well as an outright Northwest Conference title. Crestview ends the season with a 22-0 record overall and an 8-0 record in the NWC.
Lautzenheiser led the scoring for Crestview with 16 points while Etzler and Bolenbaugh added 13 and 10 respectively.
The game Friday night was also the final game for seven Crestview seniors: Etzler, Helm, Bolenbaugh, Luke Gibson, Brock Rolsten, Cain Lautzenheiser and Isaiah Simerman.
Best spoke about what this group of seniors has meant to him and the program.
“I’ve had a lot of senior groups, a lot of great senior groups, and this one goes down as one of the better ones. I love our guys that have played in the program and these guys are another group to add to that mix and the tradition we have here.”
Score by quarters
Crestview 10 12 14 6 13 - 55
Columbus Grove 10 13 11 8 6 - 48
Zaleski 5, Etzler 13, Co. Lautzenheiser 16, Helm 8, Ca. Lautenheiser 3, Bolenbaugh 10