Wildcats close out Calvert at the line

VANLUE At 5-foot-9, Vanlue junior guard Austin Smith isn’t the biggest guard Calvert has faced this year.

But for a four-minute span in the third quarter, Smith might as well have been invisible. The Senecas sure couldn’t find him.

Smith knocked down four 3-pointers to key a 17-2 run that produced a 45-30 lead. The Wildcats then held off a Calvert charge that trimmed the margin to two with a minute left before claiming a 63-53 non-league win Tuesday night.

The game originally had been scheduled to be played Jan. 25 but was postponed due to heavy snow. A similar circumstance was averted Tuesday when school officials agreed to move the starting time up an hour in advance of another storm.

The storm the Wildcats put together in the third period was bad enough.

Calvert never led in the game, but did manage to tie it at 28-28 when Michael Smith’s pass found Drew Ritzler for an inside hoop just 14 seconds into the second half.

But then Austin Smith hit a 3-pointer and turned a steal into a layup to start the Vanlue run. Austin Perry’s putback delayed the burst for a moment, but Sam Wagner hit a 3-pointer and then Smith added three straight bombs for the 15-point lead.

“We told the guys that Smith is a guy who can get going in a hurry,” Calvert coach Ted Willman said. “Our guys just lost him for a while there. We didn’t defend that very well at all.”

“The weird thing is, when a guy makes a couple shots like that, the whole team seems to gain a little extra energy in their step,” Vanlue coach Dean Birchmeier said after his club improved to 6-10. “We played pretty well for five or six minutes right there.”

A possible blowout went away when Calvert freshman Connor Meier came off the bench for five points, including a 3-pointer, and Michael Bennett hit a trey.

Trailing 47-38 for the start of the fourth period, Calvert (4-11) employed a series of traps that produced a few turnovers in the Vanlue backcourt and sparked a comeback.

Bennett, Austin Ball and Smith did all the fourth-quarter scoring for the Senecas, who twice pulled to within two, but could never get the upper hand.

The last such occasion came when Connor Behm fed Bennett for a basket in the lane to make it 55-53. But Austin Smith hit a pair of foul shots with 48 seconds left. Calvert had a couple turnovers and the Wildcats sealed it with six more free throws after that.

“That’s the thing that probably frustrates me the most,” Willman said. “With under two minutes to go, for about the sixth or seventh time this year, we had a chance to take a lead in the game and we don’t finish.

“Knowing that you have an opportunity after really doing a nice job of fighting to get back into it, and then to not get it done, it’s mind-boggling and it’s frustrating,” he said.

Austin Smith led the winners with 23 points, six more than his average. His total included five 3-pointers. The Wildcats also got 17 points and 12 rebounds from Nick Hagerty and 11 points from Jacob Coldren.

Ritzler had 15 points, 13 of them in the first half, to pace the Senecas. Bennett added 14 while Ball (seven rebounds) and Michael Smith contributed six points apiece.

“We still have six games left and we still have the tournament,” Willman said. “But we’re running out of time in trying to figure out who we want to have on the floor and how we’re going to pull one of these things out.”