Last season, there was a three-way tie for the NWOAL boys basketball crown as Swanton upset Wauseon in an early season match-up and the Bulldogs were defeated later in the year by Archbold, giving each team one league loss by the end of the season.
That may not be the case this season, after Wauseon went into Swanton Thursday night and thrashed the preseason league favorite Bulldogs 54-25, to perhaps stake themselves as the team to beat.
“For once in my life, I’m a little speechless,” said Indian coach Chad Burt on his team’s thrilling victory. “As a coach, you envision a lot of scenarios and you try to cover a lot of bases. What-ifs. And I’ll be real honest, this isn’t one of the what-ifs I ever even thought about.
“I thought our kids played with a lot of confidence tonight. A great game for our guys.”
Swanton mentor Matt Smith was equally impressed by the Indians from his position on the opposing bench.
“That is a very good basketball team,” he said. “It will take a tremendous effort for anyone to beat them in this league.”
Swanton battled the Indians hard in the first quarter, taking a 7-5 lead at the 4:15 mark after a fall away jump shot by Gunnar Oakes and Bryce McComb’s three pointer. But Carter Bzovi answered from long range to put the Indians back on top, then Austin Rotroff hit back-to-back hoops in the post, and Bzovi got a steal and score in the final minute to make it 14-7 Wauseon after one.
The second quarter belonged to the Indians as their defense held the Bulldogs to just one field goal. They outscored Swanton 15-7 in the frame.
“Give Wauseon credit, they defended us so well,” said Smith. “They were all over us. And then they kind of just pushed and shoved us around a little bit.”
Swanton’s Antonio Cervantes hit a pair of free throws in response to one of two at the line by Will Dorsey of Wauseon, but Dorsey scored down low at the other end to make the margin 17-9 with 6:37 left until halftime.
Hoping to spark his squad, McComb buried a deep three from the left wing to reduce Swanton’s deficit to five. McComb was the leading scorer for the Bulldogs at 12 points; however, his buckets were few and far between, thanks to a nice defensive effort from Wauseon’s Luke Rychener.
“He had to earn all of them. Every shot he took was contested,” said Burt, referring to Rychener’s defense on McComb. “Just a great job. He was cramping up a little bit late (in the game) but he can be tired on the bus ride home. I told him early on, I said you’re not coming out of this game.”
Rotroff emphatically dunked the ball to start a Wauseon run, while Bzovi scored on an agressive drive to the basket. Rotroff added a lay in, and Dorsey’s three-point play made it 26-12 with 1:42 remaining. The Bulldogs then got two more free throws from Cervantes, but some nice ball movement by Wauseon led to a Bzovi triple with six ticks left, sending the game to halftime at 29-14 in favor of the Indians.
“Their size and strength gave us a lot of trouble,” noted Smith. “In the second quarter I think they made an effort to get the ball inside. We couldn’t get anything going. That was pretty much the turn of the game. Once they got the lead, they could play free and easy.”
Rotroff scored back-to-back buckets around one of two at the line from Cervantes to open the third period. Then a jumper from Gype, one of two at the line by Bzovi, and Gype’s deuce on an inside feed from Bzovi extended the Wauseon advantage to 38-15 with just under four minutes left.
Gype and Rotroff, both sophomores, played big roles in Wauseon getting the victory. Rotroff led all scorers with 14 points, and also was key on the defensive side by keeping the Dogs out of the lane with his 6’8” frame. In addition, Gype scored eight points for the Indians.
“Both of those guys are basketball players. They play it year around, and not by accident. It shows,” said Burt of his youngsters. “I don’t know how many blocks and altered shots Austin Rotroff had tonight but it was a bunch of them. And just his presence inside, I thought, was big. Brooks (Gype) did a nice job of attacking.”
“Rotroff, he was tougher than heck tonight,” said Smith. “It seemed like he grabbed every rebound, and he altered a lot of shots. We looked just a little intimidated and hesitant when we went inside.”
A bucket by Gype and a pair of freebies for Rotroff, and around four points from Swanton’s Robbie Gilsdorf and two by McComb made it 42-21 with two minutes left in the third. Bzovi’s two free throws and McComb’s deuce on a pass from Oakes ended the third with the score at 42-23.
Swanton was held to only two points in the final frame while Dorsey scored eight to put an exclamation point on the Wauseon win.
Dorsey had 12 on the night while Bzovi scored 13 for the Indians. Cervantes pegged five points for Swanton.
However, Wauseon dropped their first game of the season two days later when they fell on the road to Napoleon, 66-58. Swanton got back in the win column with a 102-43 hammering of North Central at home.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 0-1 NWOAL) are at home tonight against Edgerton. Wauseon (3-1, 1-0 NWOAL) hosts Liberty Center this Thursday for an NWOAL match-up.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010