NEW WASHINGTON - It may have been an omen of good things to come for Buckeye Central.
The Bucks shut down Upper Sandusky in the second half of the JV contest.
Well, not just shut down but shut out.
So the Bucks could take heart at halftime of the varsity game, despite being down 22-15.
While Buckeye Central didn't pitch a second shutout, it was nearly as stingy, holding the Rams to 12 second-half points in a 45-34 victory Friday night.
"I'm just so proud of the kids and the way they played," Buckeye Central coach Phil Loy said. "Defensively we just did an awesome job. We got off to a little bit of a sluggish start. I don't know if it was our focus or our communication but we missed some layups and we gave them some layups. ... I'm just proud of the way they played."
The win keeps the Bucks a half game back of Colonel Crawford in the North Central Conference Silver Division with a trip to Lucas for the Bucks tonight.
"I told our guys that 'Yeah we should win' but we have to go over there and make sure it's not a sloppy game and we continue to get better," Loy said. "We both have tough games next week so it should be interesting how it all plays out."
That will leave a game each for the Eagles and Bucks. The Eagles travel to Upper Sandusky next Friday night while Buckeye Central will host Wynford.
By that point, Upper Sandusky coach Shane Adams is hoping his team has figured some things out.
"It's that whole fighting through thing, putting a smile on your face and enjoying the journey. We have to enjoy the journey and enjoy being with one another and enjoy our team. And right now we have a lot of work to do there," he said. "I guess we don't, though, because we have a week left and the new season starts. So if we don't get it figured out quickly, we'll be in trouble. It comes down to them and me. I've got to do a better job of leading."
Figuring things out would include better second-half shooting and better ball handling. Friday night the Rams went 3 of 20 from the field in the final 16 minutes and had nine turnovers.
"It was a little bit of both [good defense and lack of execution]. They were just tougher than us tonight at home," Adams said. "We've talked about toughness all year long and we didn't execute. We didn't play as a team. They deserved to win. They're playing with more chemistry and toughness than we are right now. They're doing a good great job."
While Upper Sandusky executed better offensively in the first half, it could have taken a much bigger margin into the break had it not been for six straight misses from the stripe in the final two and a half minutes of the quarter.
"Once again, it comes down to toughness. We do it every day in practice," Adams said. "At some point, we all know it, it comes down to making your free throws, making layups and getting stops. We didn't do those three tonight. That's kind of a whole resemblance to that whole mental toughness attitude. You step to the line, you put a smile on your face and you hit the free throw. It's what you've been doing since fourth grade."
Loy said the Rams' deliberate style makes a seven-point margin seem daunting, let alone had it been 13 had Upper sank those free throws.
"We were down 20-7 (in the first half) and for us to get it back to 22-15 at half is huge but I told those guys that in a game like this, where (Upper Sandusky) can be very deliberate with the lead and want to control that tempo, that seven points can seem like 15 or 16 points so we have to take pride in every possession and make sure we execute and slowly get back into this thing. But we did that quicker than I thought we would."
The Bucks (13-7, 9-2 NCC) tied the game less than three minutes into the second half as Cade Kaple, Bryce Christy and Austin Wurm scored on four of the Bucks' first five possessions in the third quarter to knot the game at 24.
Wurm and Kaple scored 11 of BC's 16 third quarter points.
"Those two are just key to our success," Loy said. "Unfortunately, Austin has been sick this week and he looked a little sluggish, especially in the first half. But those two are our go-to guys. Those guys make things happen and that's what happened in the second half."
Kaple finished with a game-high 12 points and Austin Wurm added 11. Alan Niese tossed in nine points but was largely responsible for holding Upper Sandusky's leading scorer, Joe Reile, to nine points in the game.
"Reile scares me. (Trent) Howard scares me. So to hold them to nine and six (points) is incredible," Loy said. "Hats off to Alan Niese, who sat out a couple practices with an injury this week, to come in and guard Reile. That's a tough task. Reile is one of the better point guards in our league and to hold him to nine and keep him out of the paint is remarkable."