Van Wert senior Claire Butler puts up a layup in this file photo. Butler and the Lady Cougars recorded their 17th win of the season with a 65-47 romp over WBL foe Defiance on Thursday night. (TB file photo)
By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
DEFIANCE — Van Wert lost the rebounding battle 38-24 against a much taller Defiance team Thursday night, but overcame that with pesky defense and some fine long-range shooting to escape with a 65-47 win. The Cougars are now 6-2 in the Western Buckeye League and 17-4 overall. The Lady Bulldogs are 0-8 and 3-15.
With Van Wert’s leading rebounder, 5-foot-10 Alexis Dowdy, out with an injury, the Cougars’ tallest players were 5-foot-9 senior Claire Butler and 5-foot-9 junior Erin Morrow. Defiance, on the other hand, had five players that tall or taller playing significant minutes, including 6-foot-2 junior Laura Schrag and 6-foot-3 junior Maddie Clawson.
“Defensively, we played pretty well, but we gave up 18 offensive rebounds,” said Van Wert coach Lance Moonshower. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team give up 18 offensive rebounds, but, honestly, it’s tough with one of our bigs out, and we’re under-sized as it is. They (the Bulldogs) were just doing a nice job of getting that back-side position, getting us deep enough, we just couldn’t get ‘em out far enough to get a rebound.”
The Cougars, however, made up for the rebound deficit by forcing 26 Defiance turnovers, 15 in the first half. Van Wert had 17 miscues in the game, eight in the first half.
Defiance led early, 4-3, but that was the only time. Van Wert then ran off seven points in a row, getting a free throw by Jenna Weigle, a layup by Butler, a Morrow put-back and two free throws by Cheyenne Handy. Handy then added a 3-pointer from the left wing and a layup through traffic to stake the Cougs to a 15-11 lead after one. The Bulldogs won the first quarter boards 10-3, but also had eight turnovers to Van Wert’s three.
In the second quarter, Van Wert got treys from Morrow, Kaitlynn Hall and Riley Jones to spark the Cougars to a 21-16 quarter. The visitors also canned 8-of-11 free throws during those eight minutes, and battled Defiance to a near standoff on the boards, losing that battle only 8-7. The score was 36-27, Cougars, at the half.
The lead was still nine early in the third quarter before Jones and Handy hit consecutive threes to give Van Wert its biggest lead to that point at 44-29. However, Defiance’s sophomore Maddie Naton then scored on a layup, a three-point play, and a 3-pointer, sandwiched around an elbow jumper by Butler, to get the Bulldogs back within nine.
Butler then muscled in a layup, and Morrow hit nothing but net on a three from the left wing, leaving the Cougars comfortably ahead, 51-37, at the break.
Six fourth-quarter points by Alexa Dunlap sparked Van Wert to a 63-43 lead to remove any doubt about the eventual outcome. The Cougars had five turnovers in the quarter, but three of those came in the last minute after Moonshower had emptied his bench.
The Cougars shot better from the field, 43 percent (20-of-47) to 33 percent (19-of-57). Both teams were good from the line. Defiance was a bit better, percentage-wise, hitting 80 percent, but only going to the stripe five times. Van Wert hit 18-of-24 freebies.
Clearly, Defiance will be a team to be reckoned with in the future. There are only three seniors on the Bulldog roster, and those seniors produced only six of the 47 points. Naton and Schrag led the blue-and-white scoring with 19 (including four treys) and 13. Five other Lady Dogs scored, but none of them had more than four.
Van Wert, on the other hand, had ten players in the scoring column, led by Handy and Morrow with 16 and 14. In sharp contrast to the Defiance roster, Van Wert’s seniors — Handy, Butler, Hall, Weigle, and Emilie Moonshower — contributed 33 points to the cause.
“I was pleased (offensively),” said Coach Moonshower. “We moved the ball pretty well, and when we did, we got really good looks. We got a few steals, and got some transition buckets, which helps us a lot. They did a really nice job of pressuring up, a great job of getting up into our girls a little bit, getting physical with us. We turned it over a few times that I didn’t like, but, for the most part, we were pretty good with their physicality.”
Van Wert played more zone defense than usual, about half the game, per Moonshower. “A lot of that was because we were so under-sized,” he said. “It was tough to go man-to-man with them, because they were either gonna get us deep in the post or lob it over the top. With the zone, we could kinda collapse back in a little bit, make them hit from outside. Number 22 (Naton) knocked down some threes — that hurt us a little bit.”
Defiance (9-9) won the junior varsity game 45-39. The Lady Bulldogs were led in scoring by Morgan Porter and Natalie Wichman with 13 and 10. Emma Kohn, Ally Jackson, and Phoebe Eutsler had 10, 9, and 8 for Van Wert (8-12).
Score by quarters:
Van Wert 15 21 15 14- 65
Defiance 11 16 10 10- 47
Van Wert (65)
Jones 6, Hall 6, Butler 9, Morrow 14, Weigle 1, Kohn 2, Moonshower 1, Handy 16, Bair 2. Dunlap 8
Lamb 3, Spencer 2, Burkhart 4, Schrag 13, Miller 0, Naton 19, Wichman 2, Clawson 4, McCoy 0, Allen 0