Van Wert’s Erin Morrow brings the ball up the floor for the Lady Cougars in the district opener against Lima Bath at Paudling Thursday. The Lady Cougars fell 41-36. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)
Van Wert’s Erin Morrow brings the ball up the floor for the Lady Cougars in the district opener against Lima Bath at Paudling Thursday. The Lady Cougars fell 41-36. (Times Bulletin/Brian Bassett)

Times Bulletin Business Manager

PAULDING - It wasn't the start Van Wert wanted. And it didn't end the way the Cougars wanted either.

But for 32 minutes, the Lady Cougars gave highly-touted Lima Bath all it wanted before coming up just short in a 41-36 Wildkitten victory in Division II district semifinal action at Paulding High School last night.

The Lady Cougars were held scoreless in the opening stanza, missing all eight shots from the field and committing four turnovers in the quarter. Lima Bath, though, struggled as well. Van Wert's defense limited the Wildkittens to 2 of 13 shooting in the period as well to go along with two turnovers.

"Our defensive effort was very good tonight," noted Cougar head coach Lance Moonshower. "I thought we played extremely hard and we did a good job of continuing to battle despite our offensive struggles."

One of two free throws by Lima Bath's Cassie Best made it 9-0 Wildkittens before Van Wert found the scoreboard. A bucket by the Cougars' Clair Butler, off of a Livia Butler assist, broke the scoreless streak with 5:22 left in the period.

Van Wert then controlled the rest of the period. The Cougars added a trey by Erin Morrow before two foul shots each by Morrow and Cheyenne Handy tied the contest at 9-9 with 3:06 remaining in the half.

"We were able to get a bucket there and then it seemed like our confidence level took off," Moonshower continued. "It's a credit to the girls for the way they battled tonight. Last time we played them, we got into a hole and then it took off from there. Tonight, even though we got behind early, the girls kept playing hard and worked themselves back into it."

A free throw by Lima Bath's Taylor Dackin put the Wildkittens on top 10-9 before a trey by Handy put the Cougars on top for the first time at 12-10 with 1:12 left.

Two charity tosses each by Emily Ruhe and Jenna Hollar gave Lima Bath a 14-12 advantage but the Cougars weren't done. Haney connected on a trey with one second left in the half to give Van Wert a 15-14 lead at the intermission.

For most of the third quarter, the two teams continued to play even. A basket by Alexis Dowdy knotted the game at 20-20 at the 3:04 mark of the period but Lima Bath responded.

Ruhe scored the Wildkittens final seven points of the third quarter as Lima Bath opened a 28-22 advantage entering the final stanza. Outside of a bucket by Emilie Moonshower, the Cougars turned the ball over on their other three possessions in the final three minutes.

Trailing 30-25 early in the fourth quarter, a pair of free throws each from Morrow and Dowdy trimmed the Cougar deficit to 32-29 at the 5:20 mark.

Van Wert was still within three at 34-31 after a Hannah Hulbert basket with 2:33 remaining but the Cougars struggled from there.

The Lady Cougars committed three turnovers and missed two shots on their next five possessions and the Wildkittens took advantage.

A pair of Alyssa Manley foul shots along with two Ruhe free throws pushed the Wildkitten advantage to 38-31 lead at the 1:40 mark.

Ruhe hit one of two foul shots to make it 39-31 before one last Van Wert rally.

Dowdy converted a traditional three-point play to get the Cougars within 39-34 before Madison Dackin answered with one of two foul shots for Lima Bath, pushing the lead to 40-34.

Dowdy added two more charity tosses to trim the Cougar deficit to 40-36 with six seconds left to provide the final Van Wert points. Hollar added a free throw with four ticks remaining to close out the scoring.

"I am proud of the girls and their efforts tonight," concluded Moonshower. "We are a young basketball team. We talked to the girls about improving each year and we did that this year."

Morrow paced the Lady Cougars with a dozen markers, with Dowdy adding nine and Handy chipping in eight. Clair Butler, Emilie Moonshower and Hulbert all chipped in two markers a piece. Livia Butler closed her Cougar career with one point, four rebounds and two assists.

Dowdy grabbed eight boards for Van Wert, which was outrebounded 33-26. The Cougars also had 21 turnovers compared to the Wildkittens 16.

Ruhe paced Lima Bath with 16 points followed by Madison Dackin with eight and Hollar with seven. Ruhe also recorded 13 rebounds for Lima Bath.

Lima Bath (41) - Jenna Hollar 1-0-5-7, Alyssa Manley 0-1-2-5, Madison Dackin 0-2-2-8, Emily Ruhe 3-0-10-16, Taylor Dackin 0-0-4-4, Cassie Best 0-0-1-1, Totals 4-3-24-41.

Van Wert (36) - Hannah Hulbert 1-0-0-2, Livia Butler 0-0-1-1, Emilie Moonshower 1-0-0-2, Clair Butler 1-0-0-2, Cheyenne Handy 0-2-2-8, Erin Morrow 0-2-6-12, Alexis Dowdy 2-0-5-9, Totals 5-4-14-36.

Shooting: Field Goals - Lima Bath 7-39, Van Wert 9-30 Three Point Field Goals - Lima Bath 3-18, Van Wert 4-13 Free Throws - Lima Bath 24-36, Van Wert 14-17 Rebounds - Lima Bath 33 (Ruhe 13), Van Wert 26 (Dowdy 8) Turnovers - Lima Bath 16, Van Wert 21

Score by Quarters: Lima Bath 8 6 14 13 = 41

Van Wert 0 15 7 14 = 36