ST. HENRY — The Van Wert Cougars travelled to St. Henry Saturday night as they took on the Redskins. It was a physical game, but the Cougars were up to the task. They were led by an 18-point showcasing from sophomore Nate Place, 14 of which came in the second half. Van Wert went 18-for-24 from the foul line in the second half, and held on to win, 65-55, over the Redskins.

“St. Henry plays extremely hard and they’re extremely physical,” Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley said after the game. “They’re strong athletes, and the game had a good flow to it for 28 minutes then, all of the sudden, the flow went weird. There were a lot of unusual free throw situations that happened, and I’ve never seen that before in my 25 years of coaching, but a testament to our kids, they really battled and competed on the road tonight against a very good team. We’re starting to come together. We’re starting to gel and I really like where we’re at.”

From the get-go, the game was up-and-down, fast-paced and physical. It was apparent that the refs were letting the kids play as there were only four total fouls called for the entirety of the first half. However, it worked to the Cougars’ advantage. They committed just four turnovers in the first half, and assisted on 8 of their 12 field goals.

Sophomore Drew Bagley led the way in the first half for Van Wert, he went 5-for-9 from the field for 10 points. The Redskins were moving the ball effectively too, and showed their intensity in crashing the boards as they outrebounded the Cougars 17-13 in the first half. Yet, they went into halftime down 25-23.

“Defensively, we were giving up a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half,” Coach Bagley said. “We weren’t matching up very effectively and we were trailing a lot of their cuts. Once we cleaned those things up is when we really took control.”

Van Wert came out of halftime rejuvenated and aggressive. Cougar senior Dylan Lautzenheiser got them rolling on an 8-0 run to start the second half, and sophomore Nate Place sank back to back 3-pointers, which broke the game open as their lead jumped up to 10. Place scored 9 of Van Wert’s 18 third quarter points, and as a team, they outrebounded the Redskins 9-6. At the end of the quarter, with the Cougars up 43-33, it seemed they were well on their way to an easy victory.

That was not to be the case, the Redskins ascended the comeback trail around the 4-minute mark. The Cougars lead was still 10 points, but the physicality of the game swelled, the pace quickened, yet it seemed every possession a player was heading to the foul line. St. Henry cut the lead down to six with two minutes remaining, and the pressure was back on Van Wert. However, their composure did not waver and consistency from the foul line took them home winners, 65-55.

“This weekend was all about grit,” Coach Bagley said afterwards. “Two games in a row that we showed a lot of grit, made free throws, and made enough plays to win the game against two physical teams. Now we’re two games over .500 and that means a lot to our program and our kids, and I’m just really proud of how our kids responded this weekend.”

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VAN WERT (65)

Jacoby Kelly 4-12 4-4 12, Nate Place 5-10 6-8 18, Nick Gutierrez 2-3 1-2 5, Blake Henry 1-1 1-2 4, Dylan Lautzenheiser 2-4 8-10 12, Matthew Reichert 1-1 0-0 2, Drew Bagley 5-10 2-2 12

ST. HENRY (55)

Curtis Uhlenhake 1-4 0-0 3, Nathan Lefeld 1-1 0-0 2, Ryan Luttmer 1-8 0-0 3, Mitch Schwieterman 5-11 2-4 12, Ryan Bruening 6-9 3-4 15, Tyler Schlarman 3-10 2-5 8, Parker Link 1-6 0-0 3, Blake Hoyng 2-6 2-2 6, Caden Niekamp 1-4 1-2 3

Van Wert 14 11 18 22 – 65

St. Henry 10 13 10 22 – 55

3-point field goals: VW 3-8 (Place 2) SH 3-20 (Uhlenhake, Luttmer, Link); Rebounds: VW 29 SH 31; Assists: VW 11 SH 7; Turnovers: VW 7 SH 8; Fouls: VW 12 SH 19