Much like the Big Ten in college basketball, the Sandusky Bay Conference is loaded with more than just a few good teams.
That was very evident Friday night as Margaretta avenged a 22-point loss from earlier in the season by beating St. Mary Central Catholic 60-54 on Senior Night.
The Polar Bears (11-9, 6-7) saved one of their better outings of the year for their final home game in taking it to the Panthers after halftime for the impressive victory.
Trailing 29-26 at the break, the Bears used an 18-6 outburst in the third period to gain control of the game, then hung on down the stretch
“I was just real proud of our young men, we are truly blessed to have a group that keeps battling and wanting to get better,” said Margaretta coach Steve Keller. “We did that tonight. We battled and got better as the game went on, and we were able to finish at the end of the game.”
The Bears were able to maintain their nine-point lead midway through the final quarter, even while committing six turnovers to just one for the Panthers (15-5, 8-5) in a four minute stretch to begin the final period. St. Mary started the fourth down 44-35, and still trailed 53-44 before things got interesting.
After a Dylan Bailey bucket inside on an assist from Austin Spicer made it 55-44, the Panthers went on a 10-2 run to narrow the deficit to 57-54 with 1:25 to play in the contest. A Melvin Jackson basket, a Denarius Harris drive through traffic and later free throw, and a Brett St. Clair trey from the corner, capped by a Jackson jumper in the lane propelled the Panther spurt that made a game of it.
The lone Margaretta points in the St. Mary run was a bucket from Bailey, probably the most important points of his 28 on the night. As the ball was getting knocked around in the paint, he corralled the loose ball and threw up an off-balance shot that found the net to give the Bears a 57-52 cushion.
Senior Logan Brauer hit two big free throws with 18 seconds left, and Spicer hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left after a hard foul from Harris for the final Margaretta points. The foul on Harris was ruled intentional, and a very brief scuffle ensued before the senior Spicer connected on the final of his 18 points.
“It’s just one of those things, we didn’t play with the kind of enthusiasm that we’ve been playing with,” said St. Mary coach Lyle Falknor, whose Panthers won the first meeting between these two teams 68-46 at The Den. “We just didn’t seem like we had it.
“We just got really stagnant offensively. I don’t know, we just didn’t move the ball, and we didn’t move our bodies. We were settling for outside shots. It just didn’t look like us tonight. We just didn’t score, but they had something to do with that. They did a nice job on defense and slowing us down.”
While Bailey (Division III first team all-District 6) and Spicer (honorable mention) lea\d the way for the Bears, especially in the scoring column, Keller is quick to point out it is a total team effort that leads to wins like last night’s.
“Everybody that went on the floor for us was extremely important to our success,” Keller said. “I thought we held our own in the paint and I thought we shared the ball extremely well. And probably just as important is we handled it against their pressure. We were able to get great looks and scores on the night.”
“We talk about a lot of things at the half, but the one thing we finished with was our refuse to lose mentality,” Keller added. “Our guys have really done that. They stepped up and refused to lose. That’s a quality St. Mary team. Well-coached, and we were just able to be the team that finished.”
Harris, a Div. IV first team district 6 player, was held to just five points through three quarters, and Jackson, a second team selection, who had six through three quarters, each finished with 12 points. Harris also pulled down 14 rebounds. Bailey had a double-double for the Bears, adding 11 rebounds to go with his 28 points.
“You’ve got to win with class, and you’ve got to lose with class,” Falknor said, acknowledging this game will provide some teachable moments. “You have to be careful how you handle things. I’m proud of these guys, the way they’ve played. It’s just a lesson — we’ve got to learn from it and hopefully get better. When you get knocked down you get to pick it up and jump back in it.”
With just two regular season games left before the tournament, Keller wants his Bears to finish strong and keep the momentum going.
“We got some rest during the last few days,” Keller said. “We’re doing some nice things and I think our kids are growing in confidence. The second season is the second season, but we want to finish strong for the first season and be ready to go for the tournament time.”