By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
LIMA — Lima Central Catholic head coach Frank Kill was a prominent player on the 1997 state champion Lincolnview Lancers. Who could blame him if he has visions of returning to Columbus with the Thunderbirds in 2014? LCC (6-0), a Division III team, handled Van Wert (3-3) Friday night and was impressive in doing so.
The Cougars were the fourth WBL team the Birds have beaten this season, the others being Shawnee (77-51), Elida (77-62), and Ottawa-Glandorf (64-44).
There was little suspense in this one. LCC jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first three minutes, the only Van Wert score coming on a three from the right corner by Kyle Keber. Keber hit another trey, this one from the left wing, to get the visitors within 10-6, but LCC led 17-8 after one.
The T-Birds scored the first eight points of the second period to lead 25-8. Their biggest lead of the half was 33-12. The Cougars, however, closed the half with an 8-0 run — Connor Holliday layup, Matt Bidlack layup, Nathan Stoller three from the right wing, Bidlack free throw — to trail 33-20 at the break.
Although LCC’s relentless defense made good shots hard to come by, the Cougars would still have been well within striking distance had they not gone 3-for-14 (21 percent) from the foul line during those first 16 minutes. Van Wert was also an icy 7-of-22 (32 percent) from the field. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds were 13-of-20 (65 percent) from the stripe and 11-of-23 (48 percent) from the field. LCC had only three turnovers in the half while Van Wert had seven. Rebounding wasn’t a major factor, the T-Birds having a 14-12 edge.
It was a more deliberate third quarter at both ends, with LCC continuing to shoot well (6-of-12 from the field) and Van Wert not so well (4-of-13). Each team committed only one turnover during the third eight minutes, after which the T-Birds led 46-29.
LCC led by as many as 25 (61-36) during the fourth period, but the T-Birds committed six of their ten turnovers during the last eight minutes. Although the Cougars continued to misfire from the field (3-for-14) in the fourth quarter, they did warm up from the stripe (5-of-7).
“The first half we missed 12 or 13 free throws — if we make half of them, it’s a competitive game,” said Van Wert coach Mark Bagley. “We never got them in a position where they had to tighten up, and that’s how it’s been all year for them. They’ve had six games now, and it’s been a steamroll. That’s a credit to them, because obviously their pressure defense makes you do things you don’t wanna do, but I was disappointed at some of the things, shot-wise. We missed some easy layups early, and the free throws spilled out of control.”
“We were a little shell-shocked,” added Bagley. “We knew we had to play, not a perfect game, but a lot better than we played tonight. We had to shoot the ball better, and take care of the ball a little better. LCC is kind of a measuring stick for where we’re at. We aren’t ready to play them right now, but it’s a long season. Our kids are great kids, work hard, do the right things, so we’ll bounce back.”
LCC dominated the stats, especially the shooting — field goals 50 percent (21-of-42) to 29 percent (14-of-49), free throws 68 percent (21-of-31) to 36 percent (8-of-22). The Thunderbirds won the boards, 30-21, and had fewer turnovers, 10-12.
The Birds got double figure scoring from sophomore Xavier Simpson, senior Martyce Kimbrough, and sophomore Tre Cobbs with 15, 13, and 11. Bidlack, a senior, was the Cougars’ only double-digit scorer with 12.
Oddly, LCC made no three-pointers in this game (Van Wert had four). In last Saturday’s 88-44 win over New Bremen, Kimbrough alone drained nine treys in a 35-point performance.
Van Wert won the junior varsity game 63-60. The Cougars were led in scoring by Josh Braun, Colin Smith, and Ryan McCracken with 17, 13, and 13. LCC was led by Thomas Williams and Ryan Rhodes with 18 and 14.
Score by quarters:
LCC 17 16 13 15 - 61
Van Wert 8 12 9 11 - 40
Van Wert (44) individual scoring
Smelser 2, Kyle Keber 6, Bidlack 12, Holliday 6, Myers 5, Stoller 5, Keirns 2, Nick Keber 0, Wortman 2, Henry 0, Smith 0, Moreland 0.