Despite having only six wins during the 2016-17 hoops campaign, the Celina Bulldogs brought a tenacity befitting their namesake to the February 28 D-II Sectional semifinal against the Bryan Golden Bears. The Bears brought a 13-9 record, a patient offensive plan, and a defense that stifled a late Celina run, leading to a 50-41 Bryan win.
The Bulldogs attacked the interior early in the contest, getting the first points of the game on a little jumper. Josh Jones tied the game up with a drive, and the subsequent and-1 gave Bryan a 3-2 lead. The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead with a three, but Jaden Valderas drained a deuce to tie the game. Valderas then added an acrobatic drive for two to give the Bear Boys the 7-5 advantage. Celina again went with the long ball to take the lead, but the Bears went off on an 8-0 run to reclaim the advantage. A buzzer beater pulled the Bulldogs to within three at 13-10 at the end of the first.
Celina opened the second period with a layup to cut the Bryan lead to one, but a pair of Colt Arthur free throws reestablished a three point Bryan lead at 15-12. Free throws by Evan Smith and Peyton Lamberson, and a deuce from Valderas helped expand the Bryan lead at the intermission to 21-17, but the Bulldogs refused to go away.
Smith opened the second half with a layup off of a picked pass, but Celina answered with a baseline drive to make it 23-19. With 5:43 left in the third, Smith came back and rained down a trey from the middle right, and Josh Jones crashed into the lane from the right baseline to make it a 28-19 game. A Bryan turnover was converted into a Celina score, but Valderas fought through heavy traffic on the lower right with an answer to make it 30-21 with 3:44 remaining. Celina scored on a jumper, but Smith stopped and popped a three from the top of the key to give the Golden Bears their first double-digit lead of the night at 33-23 with 3:16 remaining. The Bulldogs scored on a tip in, but a Jones free throw put the lead back to nine. Celina went on a 4-0 run before Smith grabbed his own rebound and put it through with 44 seconds left in the third. Going into the fourth, Bryan held a 36-29 lead, but the Bulldogs were about to ramp up the physical aspects of their game.
Celina opened with a baseline drive, then added a three. The double digit Bryan lead had been cut to two at 36-34. At the 6:43 mark, Valderas wove his way through the middle for two, but Celina answered to keep their deficit at two in a 38-36 game, and forcing a Bryan time out to discuss the situation.
The regrouping session paid immediate dividends as with 4:47 remaining in the contest, Arthur got loose in the left corner for a trifecta to give the Bears some breathing room. A frustration foul away from the ball gave the ball back to Bryan, but a golden opportunity to add to the lead went by the boards when the Bulldogs forced a turnover and converted it into two points, making the score 41-38. The officials began to step up their verbal admonitions, as the physical play became more and more on the chippy side. With 4:06 left in the contest, Arthur again found himself with the ball and a clean look from the left corner. His second three in less than a minute gave the Bears a 44-38 advantage, while giving the Bulldogs a deeper sense of frustration, as the Bryan defense clamped down hard on the interior. Smith drove in for two from the lower left side with 1:59 left, and 33 seconds later, Arthur took a sweet dish straight down the middle for a dagger deuce that made it 48-38. With under a minute left, Valderas capped off the Bryan scoring with a pair from the charity stripe, breaking a hex of six straight postseason losses for the Golden Bears.
Smith led the Bear Boys with 15 points, with Valderas adding a dozen, and Arthur 11. Jones cashed in 6 points, and Lamberson finished with 4.
The Bears will play for the Sectional championship on March 3, and standing in their way will be the #5 ranked Titans of Ottawa-Glandorf.
This will be the second meeting of the two squads in the 2016-17 campaign, with OG taking the first meeting by a 68-59 score.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org