SOUTH WEBSTER — Before Northwest senior Alex Baer made it official with his future football commitment, he had his biggest basketball Mohawk moment on Tuesday night.
That’s because Baer’s basket, his only of the entire game in fact and on a right-place and right-time rebound putback, gave the visiting Mohawks a 57-55 lead over the South Webster Jeeps with 10 seconds remaining.
In the end, Baer’s bucket held up for the two-point (57-55) Northwest win —as South Webster’s Will Collins was able to get a good look at a top-of-the-key three-pointer to beat the buzzer, but it bounced high off the back of the rim.
Hence, Northwest was victorious —as it marked one of the more important Mohawk wins, especially in the rugged Southern Ohio Conference Division II, under head coach Rick Scarberry.
In an important positioning battle in the SOC II, with Minford (12-0 SOC II) needing only one win to lock up at least a share of the division championship, the Mohawks (8-4 SOC II) maintained a third-place tie with Valley (9-4 SOC II) in the loss column —and will host second-place Wheelersburg (9-3 SOC II) on Friday night.
The Mohawks, matching up better against the Division IV Jeeps on the perimeter as opposed to on the low blocks, moved to 13-4 —while South Webster slipped to 13-5 and 7-5 in the league.
This week’s late-season meetings with South Webster and Wheelersburg were the first for the Mohawks this winter, as their original games against each other in January were postponed due to inclement weather —and reset for mid-February.
For the Mohawks, which withstood three first-quarter lead changes, six lead changes in the final three minutes and three ties throughout including the final at 55-55 —winning at South Webster was absolutely imperative, per Scarberry as far as team confidence, league positioning, and Southeast District Division III sectional tournament seeding.
“Not many teams come here and win, man. But we sure will take it,” said an elated Scarberry. “We tried to keep people in front of us all night. And make them beat us in other areas. I thought we did a pretty good job. South Webster is a hard team to play, and they’ve already beat some good teams this year. We definitely needed this win for our kids, for our league, and for tournament draw, this is huge for us to go in there at 13-4 and 8-4 in just a very tough league.”
For Northwest, junior backcourt mates Connor Lintz and Tanner Bolin bucketed 20 points apiece, but Baer’s only basket was the biggest.
It broke the 55-55 tie, answered Tyler Sommer’s game-tying three-pointer on the South Webster possession prior, and lifted the nice Northwest crowd which made the Tuesday trip to its feet.
Baer put back a Lintz miss, who was off-balanced when he drove in the lane and shot it —but Baer was right there for the save.
“Alex just did what he should do. He followed a guy to the rim, and if he misses and Connor doesn’t miss too many of those, but Alex got a big board and went straight back up with it,” said Scarberry.
“Baer is big strong guy and gets the rebound and puts it back in. I felt like Lintz, when he was going down the lane, hadn’t missed many, but Baer is right there,” said SWHS head coach Brenton Cole. “Gotta give credit to him, gotta give credit to Northwest being ready to play tonight the minute they hit the floor. They shot the ball well right off the bat, and right there from the beginning came to play. Our guys just didn’t show up until the second half. Just didn’t come out and show the fire that we needed to. By the time we did that and finally got back into the game, we just ran out of time.”
Northwest never trailed from the 1:51 mark of the opening canto until three minutes remained — as the Mohawks muscled for as much as an 11-point (32-21) lead with a minute and 22 seconds to play in the second stanza.
The first tie was at 9-9, the second at 18-18, and the Mohawks’ lead ranged anywhere from three to 11 points over a span of 16 full minutes and 10 seconds.
The Mohawks held leads of 33-24 at halftime and 41-31 following the third, as Bolin’s three free throws at the end of the opening quarter — when it was ruled that he was fouled in the act of shooting a buzzer-beating three-quarters court shot — made it 18-13.
Those freebies loomed large later on.
“That was huge,” said Scarberry. “Two-point game? How big was that foul?”
“That did make a big difference at the end of the game when it’s that close. Different mindset and different ways to call timeouts, different things going on,” said Cole. “But we need to do a better job there at the end of the quarter.”
The Jeeps did do better in the second half, spearheaded by the six-foot and seven-inch sophomore Eli Roberts — who poured in a game-high 31 points on six twos, three threes through the opening three quarters, and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.
He hit a perfect 5-of-5 at the stripe with four deuces in the fourth, when South Webster went off for 24 points —with Sommer scoring seven of his 15, including both of his two treys.
He also had three twos and 3-of-4 free throws, tying the game at 55-55 for his highlight of the night.
It was Collins’ rebound putback which gave the Jeeps the lead at 48-47 —the first of six lead changes in a matter of two minutes to the 63-second mark.
However, the Jeeps ultimately needed one last tie to force overtime — and/or one last three-pointer and thus lead change for the win.
Collins got a good look at the trifecta try, but it rimmed off unfortunately for the Jeeps.
South Webster is now 1-2 at home comeback attempts within the past two weeks —when it trailed by double digits to both Wheelersburg and Valley.
Two weeks ago against Valley, the Jeeps trailed by 10 points six times —but erased their deficits for a thrilling 53-49 win.
“I was proud of our guys for fighting back in the second half, but this feels more like Wheelersburg when we didn’t pull that one off either. We were down 20 at one point in that game, and came back to get within one,” said Cole. “Like that game, it was a physical game at the start, and we didn’t answer the bell and come out and match the physicality early. Not really running our offense well or curling to the rim, just running the three-point line and popping out.”
Speaking of the three-point arc, Bolin bagged all three of the Mohawks’ triples in the opening half of the initial period against the Jeeps’ zone—before his three foul shots to conclude the first quarter.
He then made two freebies for the second and final quarters, going a perfect 7-of-7 at the line —along with two twos in the last.
Lintz’s 20 was spread out over all four salvos —which were seven field goals and 6-of-8 free throws.
“It was a matter of making shots,” said Scarberry. “Tanner making those three big threes early, that gave us a little bit of cushion. Then Connor going to the basket hit some big shots over Roberts. We made some big shots and made some big free throws down the stretch.”
Jay Jenkins added eight points —a two-pointer apiece in quarters two, three and four, before meshing 2-of-2 foul shots for the 55-52 edge with 37 seconds left.
For the Jeeps, Cole said starting faster will be paramount to South Webster’s success in the Division IV tournament —and the remainder of its SOC II tilts, including at Eastern on Tuesday night or its next one.
“Starting out like this is a good way to go home early in the tournament. If we start out like this again, we’ll be done and the season will be over,” he said.
For the Mohawks, with February finally arriving, it could be a big month for them.
“It’s just a big one for us. Kids are excited and I am happy for them, and now Wheelersburg will be even bigger come Friday night,” said Scarberry.
* * *
Northwest 18 15 8 16—57
South Webster 13 11 7 24— 55
NORTHWEST 57 (13-4, 8-4 SOC II)
Connor Lintz 7 6-8 20, Logan Shepherd 0 0-0 0, Caleb Lewis 0 0-0 0, Jay Jenkins 3 2-2 8, Tanner Bolin 5 7-7 20, Kory Butler 1 0-0 2, Logan Wolfenbarker 2 1-2 5, Alex Baer 1 0-0 2; TOTALS 19 16-19 57; Three-point field goals: 3 (Tanner Bolin 3)
SOUTH WEBSTER 55 (13-5, 7-5 SOC II)
Connor Bender 0 0-0 0, Christian White 0 2-2 2, Dylan Shupert 1 0-1 2, Owen Mault 0 0-0 0, Hunter Barnard 0 0-0, Jaren Lower 0 0-0 0, Tyler Sommer 5 3-4 15, Eli Roberts 9 10-10 31, Will Collins 2 1-3 5; TOTALS 17 16-20 55; Three-point field goals: 5 (Eli Roberts 3, Tyler Sommer 2)