The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023

Cougars fall in D-II regional finals

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

BOWLING GREEN — A big first half scoring run by state-ranked Rocky River Lutheran West was just two much for Van Wert to overcome.

The 18-2 scoring jaunt included the final two baskets of the first quarter, then a 14-2 advantage in the second period, giving the Longhorns a 29-10 halftime lead. Lutheran West scored the first bucket of the third quarter and went on to defeat Van Wert 53-37 in the Division II regional championship game at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center on Saturday.

Aidan Pratt drives for two of his 22 points against Lutheran West. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent

The 37 points was the lowest scoring total of the season for the Cougars and the loss ended Van Wert’s season at 19-8. 53 points was the lowest scoring output by Lutheran West in the tournament.

“Rocky River is very talented,” Van Wert head ocach Ben Laudick said. “I thought our game plan was really solid. We just had a tough second quarter where nothing seemed to go our way. We had some good looks and we got some really good looks close to the basket and it just seemed it didn’t go in.”

As expected, the Cougars didn’t go down without a fight. Van Wert outscored Lutheran West 16-10 in the third quarter, including five points each by Pratt and AJ Proffitt, plus a basket by Garett Gunter at the buzzer buzzer made it 39-26. The Cougars began the final period with an 11-5 scoring run that pulled them to within seven, 44-37. All 11 points were scored by Aidan Pratt, who finished with a game high 22 points and eight rebounds.

However, the final two points by Pratt, a pair of free throws with just over three minutes left, were the final points scored by Van Wert. Lutheran West (24-3) put in the remaining nine points of the game, all from the foul line to secure the win and a spot in this week’s state semifinals. Jayson Levis led Lutheran West with 18 points while Derek Fairley added 15, including 11 in the first half.

“I have said it all year long,” Laudick said. “We’ve got a resilient bunch of guys led by our six seniors and they have been in some tough situations and I knew there wasn’t going to be any quit whatsoever. We made it pretty interesting but we didn’t make it all the way interesting.”

“It is just a testament to these guys and the fight they have, and the message in the locker room was that if they cared that much about the game of life, they are going to go do big things,” the coach added.

Van Wert’s Nate Phillips is surrounded by two defenders as he eyes the basket. Bob Barnes photo

“Essentially, when I look at the stats at the end of the year, I am probably going to have to replace 90-95 percent or a little bit more of scoring, rebounding, steals and assists They did it all for us and they have done it together for a very long time…they are going to leave a hole in our program next year, but they have definitely left a very positive mark. Not many Van Wert basketball teams have ever made it this far and we sure would have liked to have gone one step farther. At the same time, when we reflect on this in a week or two, a year or 10 years from now we are going to say this was a lot of fun and this is a core memory we are going to remember forever.”

The six seniors on the team are Gunter, Pratt, Nate Phillips, Luke Wessell, Carson Smith and Proffitt, who added seven points off the bench.

During a postgame press conference, two of the seniors shared their favorite moments from a memorable tournament run.

“My favorite moment was the buzzer beater that we had against St. Marys,” Gunter said. “It was a game that we fought to the every end and things ended up going our way because we were resilient.”

“I had a few good moments during this tournament,” Pratt said. “The first one was winning our first tournament game as seniors so that was special for us, then getting the opportunity to play here, that was amazing in front of a great crowd and it was a great atmosphere.”

Box score

L. West 15 14 10 14 – 53
Van Wert 8 2 16 11 – 37

Lutheran West: Jayson Levis 6-4-18; Derek Fairley 6-2-15; Shamari Richard 0-2-2; Junior Kamboma 0-2-2; Matthew Meyer 3-3-9; Dylan Bartchak 1-0-2; Moredecai Godson 0-1-1; Joshua Meyer 2-0-4

Van Wert: AJ Proffitt 3-0-7; Luke Wessell 1-0-2; Garett Gunter 2-0-4; Aidan Pratt 8-6-22; Conner Campbell 1-0-2

POSTED: 03/12/23 at 12:39 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports