Buzzer-beater ends Jackets’?season

KANSAS The sweat dripping from his chin suggested Toledo Christian’s David McWhinnie has just played a most challenging district semifinal basketball game instead of coaching it.

More important though, he had senior District Player of the Year Eric Cellier in his corner.

Cellier knocked down a jumper from just inside the 3-point line at the buzzer to lift the Eagles past New Riegel 50-48 in a Division IV district semifinal at Lakota High School Tuesday night.

The win capped a tough-luck night of the first order for Midland Athletic League co-champions New Riegel and Old Fort. In Tuesday’s first game, Old Fort fell to Ottawa Hills 61-59 in overtime.

Toledo Christian and Ottawa Hills, a couple of Toledo Area Athletic Conference rivals, meet for the third time here at 7 p.m. Friday, this time for the district championship and a berth in next week’s Bowling Green Regional.

New Riegel and Toledo Christian appeared headed to overtime in their contest as well. The Eagles (22-2) led 48-46 with 19 seconds to play when TC guard Dominique Pittman went to the foul line for two shots.

It seemed to be a huge advantage for Pittman came into the game hitting 96 percent from the foul line after having converted 26 of 27 previous attempts. But Pittman was unable to get either shot to drop and the Blue Jackets controlled the rebound.

After a timeout, Jake Dryfuse slipped a pass inside to Brandyn Reinhart, who powered for a game-tying basket. The hoop finished a huge night for New Riegel’s senior post, who totaled 29 points and nine rebounds.

McWhinnie then called for time with 5.6 seconds.

“We have a play that’s called the six-second play,” the Eagle coach said. “There was 5-point-something left and we wanted to get the ball in Eric’s hands. It wasn’t just for him but we wanted him to make a decision there.”

Cellier inbounded to Ben Ivan who quickly gave the ball back to Cellier. Though the Jackets did not apply heavy pressure, the 6-foot-2 guard had to hurry up the floor and let the shot fly over the outstretched arm of New Riegel’s Korey Williams just before the buzzer sounded.

“I’ve seen teams lose games at the end when they give away an easy one,” McWhinnie said. “We had to hit a jumper, a tough 17-foot jumper. The kid made a phenomenal play.”

New Riegel coach Todd Aichholz agreed.

“I thought we had good defense,” he said. “It’s a step-back, fadeaway 19-footer. We had good defense. We contested it well. It was a heck of a shot.”

Cellier mostly was a spectator in the first half. He picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of the game and had to take a seat. McWhinnie put his star back in to start the second period, but he had his third personal in a matter of two more minutes and sat the rest of the half.

“We knew when he attacks left-handed, he’s not going to pass the ball. He’s going to attack the rim,” Aichholz said. “We knew we had to get ourselves in position to take a charge from a kid who we can draw those charges from and I thought we did a good job executing that early.”

Reinhart scored four straight times and Williams canned a 3-pointer to give the Blue Jackets (21-4) an early lead, but the Eagles managed to tie it at 12-12 at the break.

In like fashion, a five-point New Riegel lead in the second quarter was trimmed to 26-25 at the half after Josh Winzeler had a three-point play and Pittman (eight points) and Melvin Thomas (13 points) hit baskets.

“You have the Player of the Year in the district, probably an All-State player out and we still stayed right there,” McWhinnie said. “We have depth and a couple other kids, Melvin and Doms, stepped up and made some huge plays for us and we certainly needed them.”

They needed them because Reinhart was so dominant inside and Williams contributed 11 points on the perimeter. But the Blue Jackets were hampered at times by their 21 turnovers.

“We wasted some opportunities early, throughout the game really,” Aichholz said. “We just didn’t do the little things and we turned the ball an awful lot, probably a season-high for us by far, I think.”

The Eagles eased out to a 40-36 lead in the third period and led by as many as five early in the fourth. But Reinhart scored 16 of his 29 in the second half, leading to his game-tying score.

“He’s a great player. I’ve seen him six or seven times and he had another great game,” McWhinnie said. “He’s Player of the Year in their league and he put a lot of pressure on us tonight.”

In truth, he made McWhinnie sweat over this one. But Cellier had an answer.