Big-game players make big plays to win games.
For Jerry Keifer’s Evergreen Vikings, the last few weeks it’s been someone different making big plays down the stretch in close games.
This time it was the whole shipload of Vikings that came through in the second half as Evergreen rebounded from an early deficit to shoot down Division I Three Rivers Athletic Conference opponent Oregon Clay, 62-53, Monday night at the Big House.
The win raised their record to 12-1.
“We told the kids at halftime that if they want to be in a battle for a league championship then that’s what it’s going to be like in the last four minutes,” explained Keifer. “We have to be able to play physical and make plays in the last few minutes when it means the most and I think we did that tonight against a team that is big and physical.”
It was Ethan Loeffler’s triple and a back cut basket by CJ Hauk on a pass from Nate Brighton that gave the Vikings an early three point lead; however, the tall and lengthy Eagles came back.
A three-point play from Noah Hagdohl and a three-pointer by Derek Bolander boosted the Eagles on top at the quarter, 16-15.
Brighton and Mason Loeffler worked the two-man game for a score for each to bump Evergreen on top 19-16 to start the second, but 6’8” Frank Wagenfeald scored on a putback and Scott Woollard hit the first of his four long range missiles on the evening to push the Eagles back in front 21-19.
Mason Loeffler’s three-point play began a series of alternate lead changes that ended when Evan Lumbrezer went coast-to-coast for a score with 37 seconds left in the half for a 28-27 Viking lead at intermission.
Brighton beat Wagenfeald to the rim twice with one-on-one moves to start the second half, pushing the Evergreen lead to 32-27. Then with the Vikings up four, Lumbrezer came up with the first of two huge game-turning plays.
After an Evergreen miss, the sophomore point guard fleeced Hagdohl after the rebound, then kicked it to Hauk for a long three that ignited a 10-2 Viking run.
Two free throws by Brighton, Mason Loeffler’s triple, then his dump inside to Ethan Loeffler pumped the margin to 42-30 with 2:15 left in the third.
“We wanted to put the big kid (Wagenfeald) in a ball screen,” Keifer said of getting Brighton one-one-one against him. “That worked out well for us since we got to the basket three times and got six points out of it.
“We shot the ball well in the second half because we were able to take the ball to the basket and get the ball inside.”
A Woollard triple and two Keeghan Calkins free throws with 3:41 left in the game chopped the Evergreen lead to 49-42 when Lumbrezer came up big again.
Trying to break the press, Brighton’s errant pass was speared by Lumbrezer falling out of bounds in front of the scorer’s table, and the Viking point guard found Mason Loeffler splitting the middle in what turned into a three-point play to again boost the Evergreen lead to double figures.
“Those two plays that Evan Lumbrezer made were just big,” exclaimed Keifer. “They both came at a time when momentum could’ve shifted and Clay could’ve cut into the lead more and Evan makes a big play to get us the momentum again.”
Again a Woollard three-pointer got the Eagles within seven but this time it was Hauk who came up with a momentum-turning play when he won a battle for a loose ball and found Shane Ruetz by himself underneath to regain a 10-point lead at 57-47 with 1:35 to go.
Mason Loeffler led all Viking scorers with 22 points. Brighton came up big against Wagenfeald with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
Wagenfeald led Clay with 15 while Woollard had 14.
Evergreen shot just over 50 percent from the floor at 18 of 35, after going just 9 for 21 in the first half.
The smaller Vikings outrebounded Clay 28-23 and were guilty of just eight turnovers compared to 11 by the Eagles.
Evergreen travels to Patrick Henry and Edon this weekend before returning home Monday night against Pettisville.
Evergreen is receiving points and is ranked just outside the top 10 of the latest edition of the Ohio Associated Press state basketball poll.
The Vikings currently sit at 13th in the rankings for Division III.
Reach Joe Blystone at firstname.lastname@example.org