Van Wert’s Kyle Keber puts up a runner in the lane in the face of the Coldwater defense during sectional play at St. Marys on Wednesday night. The Cougars advanced to face St. Henry for the sectional title on Friday. (Times Bulletin/Pat Agler)
By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
ST. MARYS — What a difference a couple of baskets can make.
After an ice-cold first half, Van Wert came out on fire, riding a 21-point third quarter to a 54-38 win over Coldwater in Wednesday night’s Division III sectional. The Cougars (11-12) advance to play St. Henry (16-7) in Friday night’s 8 p.m. final. St. Henry cruised to a 50-32 win over Delphos Jefferson in Wednesday’s first game. Coldwater’s season ends at 10-12.
The Cougars trailed 21-18 at the half. They were that close only because Connor Holliday had 11 points on 4-for-4 field goal shooting, including three treys. The rest of the team was 2-for-16 at that point.
“We’ve had those dry spells, for whatever reason but our guys are battling and fighting,” said Van Wert coach Mark Bagley. “I knew at halftime that our guys were confident. We just weren’t making shots. Holly hit some threes and let us hang around. The first time we played them we were down 16-2 at one point, about seven at the half, so I said, ‘Guys, we’re in great shape, only down three right now’.”
With Van Wert seemingly hanging on by its fingernails, the Cougars got a second half jump-start from an unexpected source, senior point guard Michael Smelser. He started it with a pair of 3-pointers, one from each wing, and the scarlet-and-gray had a lead, 24-21, that it would never relinquish. A couple of minutes later, up 28-24, two more Smelser baskets, one on a slashing layup and one via a backdoor assist from Matt Bidlack, pushed the lead to 32-24.
Nathan Stoller then added a breakaway layup and a corner three, sandwiched around a Cavalier 3-ball, to lead by 10, 37-27, at 2:32. Coldwater scored the next five but Kyle Keber scored at the buzzer on a breakaway to make it 39-31 after three.
The fourth quarter started with a Smelser 3-pointer from the left wing, followed by a Bidlack layup assisted by Holliday to make it 44-31 with 5:50 left in the game. From there it was a matter of holding on and the Cavs never got closer than 10 after that.
“I thought the key to the game was Michael Smelser’s aggressiveness starting the third quarter,” said Bagley. “He changed the whole tide of the game. Michael can score. When he’s aggressive and in attack mode, he’s a very good offensive player. He can both dish and score. Our guys are begging him to shoot more. He’s gotta do that.”
“We started making shots, we switched things up defensively a little bit, got some tips and deflections, some easy baskets,” added Bagley. “They went man and the tempo went faster; that’s what we wanted. Once it went faster, they couldn’t shove it down our throats with their big guys inside. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but I really like our kids’ mindset right now.”
After its 6-for-20 first half, Van Wert went 13-for-19 from the field in the second 16 minutes to end at 49 percent. Coldwater shot 34 percent (14-of-41) in the game, about the same in each half. Both teams were good from the line, with the Cougars at 73 percent (8-for-11) and the Cavs at 71 percent. Van Wert won the boards 24-16, led by Bidlack’s eight. Coldwater had seven turnovers to Van Wert’s eight.
Smelser, Holliday, and Keber led the Van Wert scoring with 15, 15 and 11, respectively. Brady Hoying had 16 for Coldwater.
Presale tickets for Friday’s sectional final can be purchased at Mengerink’s all day today and at the Van Wert athletics office on Friday from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
Score by quarters
Coldwater 7 14 10 7- 38
Van Wert 10 8 21 15- 54
Hoying 16, Thobe 3, Harlamart 2, Wolters 5, Brunet 6, McKibben 0, Hemmelgarn 0, Fisher 6.
Van Wert (54)
Smelser 15, K. Keber 11, Bidlack 4, Holliday 15, Myers 2, Stoller 5, Henry 0, Keirns 0, N. Keber 0, Smith 0, Moreland 2, Wortman 0.