Crestview’s Preston Zaleski puts up a jumper against tight Ottawa Hills defense Tuesday night in a Division IV regional semi-final. The Knights won 49-26. (Times Bulletin/Jim Bowers)
Crestview’s Preston Zaleski puts up a jumper against tight Ottawa Hills defense Tuesday night in a Division IV regional semi-final. The Knights won 49-26. (Times Bulletin/Jim Bowers)

By John Parent

Times Bulletin Sports Editor

BOWLING GREEN – Giving up eight inches defensively, it might have been easy to assume that Crestview senior Cam Etzler would have difficulty guarding Ottawa Hills’ 6-foot-7 senior Geoff Beans.

Beans, the Northwest District Division IV Player of the Year, came in averaging better than 18 points per game and will be playing Division I college basketball next season.

With Crestview’s front court of Tyson Bolenbaugh and Damian Helm drawing assignments against a 6-foot-9 center and a 6-foot-7 wing, the decision to use Etzler on Beans might have seemed unconventional, but it may have been the most brilliant move that Crestview head coach Jeremy Best has made all season.

Beans was held without a field goal as the Knights used a strong fourth quarter to pull away with a 49-26 final in the Division IV regional semi-final at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University.

“Because he’s a tough kid,” Best said of his reasoning in putting Etzler on Beans. “We didn’t want (Beans) to touch it, and he didn’t let him. He got nine shots off, but, for the most part, Cam did a great job. He just didn’t get many good looks, and we wore him down.”

“I have to give credit to him, he made me work,” noted Etzler of his match-up with Beans. “I just tried to make him uncomfortable the entire night, try to keep hands in his face and jab at the ball. Every opportunity I had to take a charge, I had to take full advantage of that.”

The Knights didn’t shoot particularly well on Tuesday, but a pair of clutch 3-pointers late in the game sealed the win for Crestview, which moves on to face Wayne Trace in the regional final on Friday.

In a game where points were at such a premium, the Knights were able to build and maintain a lead of 8-10 points for most of the contest. Despite the size disadvantage, the smaller Knights were able to pressure the wings, preventing easy entry passes to the post.

With Beans unable to get going, and Ellis Cummings hampered with foul problems, senior R. J. Coil was the only offense for the Green Bears. Coil had nine points and eight rebounds in the first half, and his presence in the low block kept Bolenbaugh and Helm in foul difficulty.

“It was a physical game. Both teams were in foul trouble throughout the game,” Best noted. “We had to try to impose our will against them because we weren’t as physically imposing as they were. But I thought our team effort was fabulous. We had pretty good backside help most of the time, we had great pressure on the ball, and we said that was going to be key.”

Coil converted back-to-back three-point plays early in the second quarter, but a hoop and a pair of free throws by Helm kept the margin from falling below five.

It was the best offensive stretch for Helm all evening. He finished with 10 points on just 1-of-6 shooting.

The banging inside and the presence of the Green Bears underneath made open looks difficult to come by for the Knights, who were held to 4-for-19 shooting in the first half.

“”It presented a challenge, even just going to the rim,” said Helm of his team’s struggles against the size of the Green Bears. “You never knew if their 6-9 kid was coming over to swat you or number 44 (Cummings), you never knew where he was coming from. They’re great defensively and that (the size) just got into our head a little bit, I think.”

Despite the struggles, Crestview held a 21-13 advantage at the break.

In the third, Etzler and the Crestview defense stiffened even more. A steal by Etzler became a fast break layup to move the margin to 23-13, and, after the Green Bears had trimmed the lead to eight, Connor Lautzenheiser and Etzler came up with steals on consecutive possessions that pushed Crestview out in front by a 27-15 margin.

“We knew they were an outstanding defensive team,” said Ottawa Hills head coach David Sheldon. “I thought the physicality of the game was really a big difference-maker tonight. We just didn’t handle it well. It’s a one-game season; you can’t have a bad night.”

With Ottawa Hills still hanging around, Lautzenheiser drilled a 3-pointer from the wing with 5:49 to play in the final quarter, giving the Knights an 11-point advantage.

Minutes later, Mitchell Rickard knocked down a triple from the corner and Lautzenheiser followed that with a steal and layup to extend to a 14-point game. When Etzler drove the baseline and converted a three-point play at 3:24 to go, the Crestview players and fans sensed a victory.

“I felt like the crowd really got behind us there,” Etzler said. “Connor and Mitchell’s two threes and then Connor’s pick right after Mitchell’s three, I think that got us some momentum. Emotion is what we run on. When we get emotional, that’s when our fans get behind us, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

Crestview, which is making its first appearance in the regional final since 2003, shot just 33 percent for the game, but held Ottawa Hills to six total field goals and 23 percent shooting.

“There’s an old saying ‘your defense travels with you,’ and I thought we brought it with us up here tonight,” Best continued. “You’re not always going to shoot the ball well, especially in a game where everything is contested. We had to work hard for everything.”

Despite being undersized for really the first time all season, Crestview battled on the boards and was able to stay within a 29-26 margin in total rebounds. Nine of the Knights’ boards were offensive.

“That was a key,” Best added of his team’s ability to play with Ottawa Hills on the glass. “We talked about that. Their big bodies, but they don’t always turn and find you; they want to go get the ball. We thought we could sneak in and grab a few offensive rebounds and keep possessions alive.”

Crestview will now take on Wayne Trace for the third time this season when the two area rivals meet at 7 p.m. on Friday night.

“It’s kind of one of those match-ups where you know what the other team’s going to do,” noted Etzler of facing the Raiders again. “There aren’t going to be a lot of secrets. It comes down to execution and getting it done on the defensive end. We know they’re not going to back down, and we know we’re always going to get their best shot. That’s what makes it such a great rivalry.”

Score by quarters

Ottawa Hills 3 10 7 6- 26

Crestview 12 9 8 20- 49

Ottawa Hills (26)

Beans 2, Silverman 0, Sieben 0, Coil 19, Cummings 2, Denner 0, Hylant 0, Hoeflinger 0, Roman 0, Hauck 1, Abendroth 3, Hoffman 0

Crestview (49)

Zaleski 2, Etzler 11, Helm 10, Co. Lautzenheiser 10, Bolenbaugh 4, Mefferd 0, Rolsten 2, Simerman 0, Ca. Lautzenheiser 0, Rickard 6, Owens 3, Van Cleave 0, Jones 1