Nate Place laying in the final shot of the game. (DHI Media/Pat Agler)
Nate Place laying in the final shot of the game. (DHI Media/Pat Agler)

ADA — It was play that never worked in practice, but Wednesday night it worked to perfection. Owen Treece threw a tremendous lob pass to Nate Place who laid in the game winning bucket to put the Cougars over Defiance in the overtime barn burner, 27-25.

Of course, I say barn burner facetiously, but you don’t get a 27-25 final score without a terrific basketball game, and the Wednesday night’s District semi-final game was absolutely that. Defense dominated the day as both teams combined for seven points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Both to finish the fourth and overtime the Cougars held the ball just across half court for the final two minutes in order to take the last shot. Both times Van Wert called on their star senior Nate Place to take said shot. The first try saw Place take the ball from the wing and drive it down the right side of the lane to attempt a contested lay up, which was just a little too strong as it banged off the iron.

After Place missed that shot he went over to Coach Mark Bagley and said that he will make the next one, and he did. With time clicking off the clock, LeTrey Williams passed the basketball to Treece over on the left wing. Place, who started on the right wing, dashed to hoop, behind the eye sights of many Defiance defenders. At the last second James Steele noticed Place dashing for the hoop, but before he could get into position to stop the play he was met by a beautifully executed screen from Drew Bagley. The rest was history as the pass from Treece was on the money.

“We ran that play quite a bit this week, and I don’t think Owen [Treece] threw one pass that was on the money,” said Place. “They were all over my head, Coach Bags was yelling at him all week. But, game time he came down in got it.”

It was a beautifully designed and executed play in an otherwise bizarre game. 27-25 was the final score, Van Wert went 1-14 from the perimeter, Defiance scored as many points in the first quarter as they did in the final 20 minutes of game play, but perhaps the most bizarre was that there wasn’t a single free-throw shot. I’m no prep basketball historian but that has to be a first in Ohio tournament history, at least for a game that went beyond regulation to find a winner.

“I told the guys if we win one to nothing I don’t care, in tournament time you survive and advance,” said Van Wert head coach Mark Bagley. “Our kids did that tonight.”

Last Friday the Cougs upset Wauseon despite losing the rebound battle. Wednesday night was more of the same as Van Wert lost the boards battle with Defiance 35-25, including 15 offensive boards.

“This is the second game in a row where I’ve lied to my team,” said Bagley. “I said we had to be even with Wauseon and plus a few with Defiance to win, and we got destroyed on the boards. That shows a lot about our kids— their grit and their toughness. We have a sign in our locker room and it says ‘The game honors toughness.’ I thought our kids really battled through adversity tonight.”

The Cougars now set their sights on Shawnee who defeated Van Wert this season 70-49. Though the game ended with a 21 point difference the Cougs were right in the thick of it late in the third quarter. Shawnee scored 22 points in the final period to put the game out of reach.

When asked if 27 points was going to beat Shawnee on Saturday for the District Title, Coach Bagley quickly shot it done with a definitive “no,” which was shortly followed by Place’s response of “not even close.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Northern University, with a District Title on the line.

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Defiance (25)

D.J. Dobson 9 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast; Tyrell Goings 10 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast; Alex Nation 4 pts, 7 reb; Will Lammers 2 pts, 3 reb; James Steele 0 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast; Nasir Mitchell 0 pts, 6 rebs; Colin Moats 2 reb, 2 ast

Van Wert (27)

Drew Bagley 8 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast; Blake Henry 6 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast; Nate Place 6 pts, 8 reb; Owen Treece 5 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast; Lawson Blackmore 2 pts, 4 reb; LeTrey Williams 0 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast