In this file photo, Van Wert’s Kyle Keber (20) goes strong to the basket as Drew Myers (32) battles for position in a game against Ottoville earlier this season. Keber led the Cougars with 18 points in a win over Kenton. (Times Bulletin file photo)
By Nick Johnson
Times Bulletin Correspondent
KENTON — The Van Wert Cougars took the long trip to Kenton High School on Friday night for Western Buckeye League boys high school basketball action against the Wildcats. The Cougars got a big conference road victory, taking an 81-67 decision.
The Wildcats started strong, getting five points from Grant Sherman to jump out to a 7-5 lead. The Cougars quickly flipped the switch, going on a 9-0 run, getting five points from Kyle Keber.
The Cougars then got a three-pointer from Connor Holiday and a layup from Keber to extend the Van Wert lead to 20-9.
Kenton ended the first period connecting on two foul shots from Matt Bahr to end the first quarter down 20-12.
The second quarter started with a three-point play from Sherman, but Van Wert countered with a trey from Nathan Stoller to make the score 23-15.
After the Wildcats got a three-pointer from Blake Bushong to make the score 33-26, Stoller connect from the corner twice for three-pointers to help Van Wert jump out to a 13-point lead with the score 39-26.
Van Wert came out hot in the third quarter as Holiday and Keber connected on three-pointers to increase the Cougar lead to 48-31.
Mid-way through the third period, the Wildcats got five straight points from Bahr as he connected on a long three and added a quick layup for good measure to cut the score to 52-42.
Matt Bidlack and Van Wert were quick to respond as Bidlack drained a three-pointer and a couple plays later Keber got a three-point play the old fashioned way to push the Van Wert lead to 60-44.
Kenton got a three-point play from Sherman to end the third period and also got four quick points from Austin Phillips to start the final period to make the score 62-50.
As for much of the game, Van Wert always had a counter punch. As Kenton cut the lead to 12, Stoller quickly drained a three-pointer and a nice basket by Bidlack on an inbound play pushed the Cougar lead back up to 18 points.
The Wildcats relied heavily on Phillips and Sherman during the closing stretch as both players got multiple baskets to end the game. But Van Wert was able to better the Wildcats getting timely offense from Drew Myers and Michael Smelser to ensure that the Wildcats comeback attempt was foiled on Friday night.
When the final buzzer rang, the Cougars had gotten an 81-67 victory over the Wildcats and gave themselves a shot at first place in the WBL.
The Cougars had four players in double figures as Keber dropped in 18 points, Michael Smelser chipped in 14 points, as did Nathan Stoller. Connor Holiday added a dozen.
The Wildcats had the game’s top scorers as both Phillips and Sherman had 20 points and Matt Bahr added in 14 in the loss.
“We pride ourselves on being good shooters. We practice a lot during the summer and we knew coming into tonight that we would have our chances to knock down good shoots. And we know that Phillips and Sherman were loads, but they got 40. We tried some different things, but when they get you deep like that is 6-5 versus 6-1 or 6-2 and they will win that battle every time. Give them credit, they are a team coming off a football run and they have only played five games, and they will get better. They went 13-10 last year and pretty much everyone came back this year. They are a team that is going to beat some good teams this year once they get their basketball legs,” said Van Wert basketball coach Mark Bagley.
“We are good shooters, and you saw that tonight, but we have shoot very poorly from the line and we have tried everything known to man. It’s a mental thing. Maybe we will start to shoot jumpers (from the line), but we will continue to work on that because it’s all mental. That’s the one thing we need to improve on as the season goes on,” said coach Bagley.
With the win on Friday night Van Wert gets back to five hundred on the season with a 4-4 record and jumps to 2-1 in the WBL. The Wildcats drop to 2-3 on the year and 0-2 in the WBL.