Golden Bears and Titans don’t disappoint in possible tourney preview

In what could be a preview of a possible Div III district semi-final matchup in the upcoming state boys basketball tournament, number-three-seeded Waynedale (15-7) and number-two-seeded Triway (13-8) faced off in The Pit on Tuesday, Feb. 20. After a chippy, physical contest, the Golden Bears headed back to Apple Creek, finishing their regular season on a two-game winning streak after hanging on for the 79-73 tough road win over the Titans.

Just one minute of play into the game, the Titans jumped out to an early 7-0 lead behind a Bryce Biggs 3-pointer, Gabe Walker layup and Jordan Stokes post move. It wasn’t exactly the start Waynedale coach Kevin Stacy wanted to see from his squad.

“We didn’t want to let the younger Biggs get hot, and we wanted to stay in front of Walker. Unfortunately we did neither of those two things to start, so we called a quick timeout to see if we could find our rhythm.”

Despite Stacy’s attempt to stop the Titans’ momentum, Triway finished the opening period of play with a commanding 22-7 lead behind seven points from Walker and two nothing-but-the-bottom-of-the-net 3-pointers from Biggs. Waynedale didn’t put points on the scoreboard until there was 4:12 left in the quarter. It looked like the rout was on.

Fortunately for Stacy, his squad didn’t flinch. “We pride ourselves on sharing the basketball. We have almost five guys who average double figures this season. We don’t have a 20-point scorer, but we have a lot of guys who contribute. Once the ball started moving and we started to see it go in the hoop, the guys began to rally.”

Rally they did on their way to a huge 28-point second quarter. In the middle of the Golden Bears’ rally was sophomore reserve center Mason Higgins, who hustled his way off the bench to score 11 of Waynedale’s 28 points in the quarter. Freshman guard Zach Geiser and junior forward Derek Reber also had a major hand in Waynedale’s big quarter with five points a piece including both players each knocking down a big 3-pointer. Halfway through the period Waynedale’s offense moved the ball well and clawed their way back into the game, closing the deficit to 30-25 with 3:41 left in the first half. The Golden Bears made it a two-point game after their final two offensive possessions of the half, and the Titans held a slim 37-35 advantage.

The Bears stayed hot in the third quarter, finding their rhythm from behind the arc to go with Higgins’ continued stellar play in the paint. Other than Walker, the Titan offense did not fair so well. Walker continued to be a one-man wrecking crew for Triway on offense, pouring in eight of Triway’s 13 third-quarter points with the other five points coming from senior Braden Biggs. However, Waynedale dialed it up from downtown to splash four triples, led by junior forward Drew Hostetler, who overcame a quiet first half with two big buckets when the Bears needed them. Most importantly Waynedale’s defense locked in and held Triway to 13 points for the quarter.

The Titan offense made a push near the end of the third quarter to reclaim the lead, but Reber’s three-ball from the top of the key gave the Bears a five-point cushion, 55-50, to end the quarter.

The final quarter of play saw the game get chippy after Higgins was hacked on a dunk attempt, which resulted in double technicals being called. The Bears kept their cool and started the quarter on a 7-0 run until Walker hit Triway’s technical freebies to make it 65-52. With 5:53 left in the game, Waynedale had captured the momentum and seemingly were primed to cruise to victory. However, Triway didn’t quit, and Ben Holt’s squad made one last push. Braden Biggs stepped in and took a charge with 4:22 left in the game. That seemed to be the spark the Titans needed.

A deep three by senior guard Bo Flinner, followed by another deep strike by Bryce Biggs, and suddenly the Titans were back in business with Waynedale clinging to a slim 65-62 lead with 2:32 left to go.

However, Waynedale’s Hostetler made five of six free throws for the Golden Bears down the stretch, and Geiser scored eight, including two clutch triples, to go with Higgins chipping in five more in the paint to cap off his big night. Waynedale escaped The Pit with a physical 79-73 road win.

Stacy had high praise for Higgins’ effort. “Mason has done a nice job with being a little more physical. We challenged him tonight, because of his length, to score when he is around the basket. Triway has two really good defenders in the paint, and Mason rose to the occasion. We can be a streaky team from the outside. It really gets contagious once a few fall. It was good to see us start inside tonight and work our way out.”

Higgins summed up the night well. “I think both teams threw the kitchen sink at each other defensively, which created a lot of different matchups. It was a chess match. Both teams are very familiar with each other.”

With both teams possibly seeing each other again in the tournament, both were well prepared coming into this game. “We had them scouted well; they had us scouted well. Our kids were physical and rose to the occasion. The big thing for me was when we were up by 11 and became a little complacent. Triway hit a couple of shots to make things close at the end, but we rallied and hit our foul shots, which is something we have struggled with at times this year. We were able to close it out. I also want to mention Zach Geiser’s effort tonight. For a freshman point guard he handled this environment really well. This is a tough place to play. He handled the pressure and helped get us going.”

Higgins finished with 22 points and four rebounds on 9-of-12 shooting. Geiser scored 19 points, hitting 5-of-7 from behind the arc. Hostetler had 13 to go with his clutch shooting from the charity stripe, and Reber chipped in 11 points, three rebounds and three assists. Senior Ryan Weaver scored 7-of-9 points in the second half to go along with five steals, three assists and three rebounds. For the game, the Golden Bears made 11-of-20 three-point attempts (55 percent) and shot 28-of-53 from the floor (53 percent). Waynedale will host the winner of Northwestern vs. Norwayne in the Div. III Wooster District sectional semi-final on March 2 at 7 p.m.

For Triway, Walker led all scorers with 24 points and led everyone on the glass with 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double and four assists. Bryce Biggs shot 6-of-12 from behind the arc for his 18 points while Braden Biggs stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Flinner knocked in a pair of triples to go with four free throws to finish with 10 points. For the game, Triway made 25-of-49 from the field (51 percent) and shot 17-of-31 from behind the arc (55 percent). The Titans out-rebounded Waynedale on the boards, 33-21, but were forced into 15 turnovers.

Holt and the Titans will have a chance to end the regular season on a positive note when they host Canton South on Feb. 23. Triway begins tournament play when they face the winner of Tuslaw vs. Orrville in the Div. III Wooster District sectional semi-final on March 2 at 7 p.m.

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