Van Wert senior Matt Bidlack pulls up for the jumper over a Blue Jay defender. Bidlack had 17 points for the Cougars, who improved to 9-10 with the victory. (Times Bulletin/ Randy Shellenbarger)
By Larry Heiing
DELPHOS — In a season that has seen the Van Wert Cougars suffers close loss after close loss, they pulled to within a game of .500 with a 53-48 win over the St. John’s Blue Jays at Robert A. Arnzen Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
The loss was the third straight for the Jays.
During the Blue Jays’ skid, the offense has struggled to score early in games, their defense to dig out of a hole. That’s exactly what happened again, as the Cougars jumped out to a seven-point lead to open the game.
St. John’s finally scored when Andy Grothouse grabbed an offensive rebound and his put-back got St. John’s on the scoreboard trailing 7-2.
Grothouse knocked down the only other made field goal for the Jays in the opening period, a 3-pointer, and Delphos was down 16-7 after one.
Grothouse added a bucket to start the second, but Van Wert’s Matt Bidlack began to make his presence felt on the court with a move to the hole over a pair of Blue Jay defenders, drawing contact and earning a trip to the line. His pair of free throws resulted in an 18-9 Cougar advantage.
St. John’s starting chipping away at the Cougar lead, as Grouthouse made two free throws and Evan Hays hit a pull up eight-footer. Conner Holiday nailed a 3-pointer for Van Wert to extend their lead back to seven points.
Holliday’s triple only paused the Blue Jay momentum, however. Alex Odenweller, returning to the Blue Jay lineup after an injury, hit a triple and Ryan Koester made one of his patented reverse layups to bring St. John’s within two. The Blue Jays finally caught the the Cougars at 22-22 when Koester made a pair of freebies after being fouled in the paint.
Bidlack continued his dominance on the boards to start the second half with an offensive rebound and bucket. St. John’s big man Tyler Conley broke a personal scoring dry spell with a lay in to even the score at 26. Bidlack scored on a eight-footer after a great move to get the open shot and Eligh Wortman hit a 20-footer to give the Cougars a four-point lead.
Koester drove the length of the court and another reverse layup brought his team within two, but that’s as close as St. John’s would get for the rest of the game as Van Wert outscored the Blue Jays 11-4 to end the third.
St. John’s wasn’t about to go away without a fight, as Conley scored four points to pull the Jays within 41-36. In between buckets by Connor Holliday for Van Wert, the Jays continued to score in close range as Koester and Conley made short baskets. Clark and Conley made two more buckets as the Jays defensive pressure held Van Wert in check and the lead was down to three points at 47-43.
Holliday stopped the Blue Jay momentum with a 3-pointer with 2:25 left in the game. “Connor hitting that three in the fourth quarter was huge for us,” said Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley. “The crowd was really getting into the game, and St. John’s defense was feeding of the crowd noise. His shot gave us a six-point lead, and we went onto win the game.”
“Elijah Wortman’s defense also was a big key for us tonight,” Bagley continued. “He gave us lots of energy and our team feed off of that. I have the utmost respect for Coach Elwer and Delphos St. John’s team. We weathered the storm and got a big road win.”
The Blue Jays had three players in double figures, while Van Wert was led by Connor Holliday’s game-high 20 points and Matt Bidlack added 15.
The next game for Van Wert is on the road Friday night in Western Buckeye League action at Wapakoneta and then face Delphos Jefferson Saturday at home. St. John’s hopes to get back on the winning track with a Midwest Athletic Conference contest at New Breman.
In JV action, the Blue Jays stayed within two points of the Cougars through the third quarter before turnovers lead to a 60-38 loss. The JV team was lead by Timothy Kreeger’s 13 points and Jaret Jackon scored nine.