CLEVELAND, Ohio – When they needed the big plays, the Wood County Christian Wildcats found somebody to make them.
Trailing by nine to start the fourth quarter against the Ohio Valley Christian defenders at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Friday the Wildcats desperately needed big plays.
And boy did they get them.
Wood County Christian outscored Ohio Valley Christian 22-5 in the final period to take a 55-47 victory over the Defenders just hours before the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls played on the same court.
Down for most of the game, the Wildcats went to an aggressive 2-2-1 pressure defense in the fourth quarter and they made the defenders pay as Ohio Valley committed more turnovers in the fourth quarter than in the previous three combined while hitting just two field goals.
“They were throwing it away. We were getting steals, and turning them into points,” said Wood County Christian senior Kalen Gandor, who had 16 points including nine in the fourth quarter. Of Gandor’s nine points in the fourth quarter, six came in the final three minutes, including the bucket to put the Wildcats ahead.
Wood County Christian trailed at the end of every quarter and was down by as many as 17 in the third.
Still, the Wildcats knew they could get back into the ballgame. They just needed a little time to get to a groove and make up for a dismal first half.
Playing in an arena that seats more than 15 times what fits in their gym, the Wildcats certainly got off to a sluggish start as they hit just 4-of-13 field goals in the first half and 2-of-6 from the free throw line.
Ohio Valley, meanwhile, was capitalizing as the Defenders hit 6-of-11 attempts from the floor and were perfect at the free throw line to lead 16-10 after one quarter.
Wood County Christian led early on baskets from Ungar, 4-1, and maintained that lead until the 3:34 mark of the first quarter. Then the Defenders began to assert themselves, as Chance Burleson collected a steal and laid it in to tie the game and then Ben Tillis scored off Paul Miller’s assist for a 9-7 Ohio Valley lead with 2:22 on the clock.
Ohio Valley Christian would expand that lead down the stretch of the first quarter as the Defenders scored 13 of the final 16 points in the period, leading by six on T.G. Miller’s putback basket with just five seconds on the clock.
Neither team could gain ground in the second quarter as both teams accounted for 11 points, though the Defenders did get the lead to 10 points for the first time 26-16 on Paul Miller’s bucket with 3:08 before the break.
The Wildcats scored five of the last six points in the period to trail 27-21 at the break. Wood County Christian would continue to trail until the defense began taking over the game.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the defense waited till Wood County Christian’s back was against the wall to play to its form.
Ohio Valley scored the first 11 points of the second half to lead 38-21 with 3:56 on the clock.
But then the Wildcats decided it was time to take care of business.
Wood County Christian tallied 12 of the final 15 points in the third to trail by just nine, 42-33, going into the final quarter.
The Wildcats wasted no time getting themselves back into the ballgame, as Wood County Christian trailed just 42-40 on Seth Rataiczak’s basket off Tyler McIntosh’s assist with 6:04 to play in regulation.
Ohio Valley Christian got a pair of free throws and a bucket from Burleson to counter the Wildcat run, but the change to the aggressive press defense resulted in a string of turnovers by the Defenders as Wood County Christian closed within one, 45-44, on Rataiczak’s bucket with 3:48 on the clock.
The Defenders had just one more answer left in them when Paul Miller scored to make the score 47-44.
A 1-of-2 effort at the free throw line by Rataiczak was followed by Gandor collecting the offensive rebound and putting it back to tie the game, 47-47, with 3:18 to play.
Gandor then scored off Jamie Arnold’s assist following a Wildcat steal to put Wood County Christian ahead.
Another basket by Gandor off McIntosh’s assist resulted in a four point lead, and the Defenders would be unable to twinkle the twine again.
Ungar’s free throws closed out the game as he hit four straight in the final 23.6 seconds to preserve the lead.
The win was the Wildcats 12th of the season, but none have come on a bigger stage than The Q.
Kevin Pierson is a sports writer for the Marietta Times in Marietta, Ohio.
Wood County Christian 55, Ohio Valley Christian 47
OVC 16-11-15-5 – 47
WCC 10-11-12-22 – 55
OHIO VALLEY CHRISTIAN (9-5): Paul Miller 5 0-0 11, T.G. Miller 3 2-2 8, Chance Burleson 4 5-6 13, Ben Tillis 2 2-4 6, Pete Carman 3 1-2 7, Phil Hollingshead 1 0-0 2, Scotty Wood 0 0-0 0, Marshall Hood 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18 10-14 47. Three-point goals: 1 (Miller).
WOOD COUNTY CHRISTIAN (12-3): Luke Wolfe 2 0-2 6, Kalen Gandor 6 4-10 16, Seth Rataiczak 3 2-6 8, Tyler McIntosh 1 2-2 4, Josh Ungar 6 9-11 21, Jamie Arnold 0 0-0 0, Gabe Strause 0 0-0 0, Scotty Heslop 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18 17-31 55. Three-point goals: 2 (Wolfe 2).