Wauseon advanced to the Division II state championship game with a 42-35 victory over Columbus Eastmoor Academy on Thursday morning. The Indians outscored Eastmoor 18-10 in the fourth quarter.
“We haven’t seen that type of length or athleticism all year. You just don’t know how your kids are gonna respond,” said Wauseon coach Chad Burt after the game. “I thought early on we came out and obviously weren’t intimidated. I thought we took it to them at the offensive end. Maybe didn’t finish as well as we would have liked, but man are they long.
“Defense never sleeps and rebounding never sleeps. I don’t think we shot it real well. And thankfully, they didn’t shoot it real well either.”
The Indians extended their lead to 8-4 at the 2:56 mark of the first quarter, then an Isaiah Hairston putback for Eastmoor and Austin Rotroff’s open dunk for Wauseon kept the margin at four at the quarter break.
Eastmoor tied the score 3:25 into the second stanza on a pair of hoops from Central District Player of the Year Taevion Kinsey, the second a thunderous slam off a steal.
However, the Indians bounced back.
First senior Carter Bzovi split a pair of free throws, followed by another Rotroff dunk with an assist by Brooks Gype, putting Wauseon on top 13-10 at the half.
After Wauseon got a bucket on a drive to the hoop from Gype to begin the second half, the Warriors answered back with six straight points.
Stanley Williams converted a putback basket, Tariq Brown scored on a dribble penetration, and Williams’ jumper made it 16-15 at the 5:47 mark of the third.
The Indians would build a 23-19 advantage on a pair of Gype free throws with 1:25 left in the frame, but yet again the Warriors made a run.
Kinsey buried a three to get them within one, then a steal and three-point play for Brown gave Eastmoor a 25-23 lead. Bzovi split a pair from the foul line with two ticks left as the Warriors clung to a one point lead through three.
A pair of effort plays by Wauseon’s Owen Newlove helped the Indians reclaim the lead in the opening minutes of the fourth. He got a pair of putbacks on consecutive trips down the floor to put it at 28-25 with 6:35 to go, and they never relinquished the lead the rest of the way.
Kinsey followed with a hoop for the Warriors, however, Bzovi converted a drive to the hoop and then added two free throws to push their lead to five with 3:15 to go.
“We’ve had that before in the districts and the regionals where a team has taken the lead on us,” said Bzovi. “We made winning plays, all of us. That was the key. We weren’t afraid to make a play.”
Gype had a pair of big plays later in the quarter as his three-point play gave the Indians a 35-31 lead with 2:05 to play. Kinsey responded with a putback, but after Rotroff fell short on the front end of a 1-and-1, Gype picked up the loose ball and stuck it back, keeping the difference at four with 1:22 left.
“Their length kind of bothered us around the rim,” said Gype of the Indians’ offense in the fourth. “We just had to keep taking it to the hoop. Do what we do best – getting it to the hoop. Things started going our way.”
Wauseon made 5 of 6 from the line around a Kinsey bucket in the final minute to close it out.
Gype and Bzovi led the way offensively for Wauseon, scoring 14 and 13 points respectively. They were each strong from the free throw line with Bzovi hitting 6 of 8 and Gype sinking 6 of 6.
The Indian defense clamped down on Eastmoor, holding them to just 32 percent shooting from the field. Wauseon on the other hand, shot 42 percent from the floor.
“I thought we did a great job defending ball screens. That was a major worry for us coming in. With their big bodies and ball screens, and the way they can get to the rim and distribute,” said Burt of the Indians’ success on the defensive end.
“Again, that’s nothing new. We’ve done a great job this year of taking a defensive gameplan and translating it into a game.”
Overall, Wauseon made 13 of 19 from the foul line, while Eastmoor made 4 of 7.
Wauseon will take on either Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the state championship game on Saturday at 10:45 a.m.
“A great accomplishment,” said Bzovi, one of three Wauseon seniors on the roster. “I get to end my career at the state finals. Happy to do it with these teammates. It’s been great all year.”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010