By Lyle Kittle
In Gordon Lightfoot's epic song about the wreck of the iron freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, there's a verse that refers to "the waves turning the minutes to hours."
In the case of Celina coach Mike Kanney, the closing seconds of Saturday's contest against Toledo Rogers was an instance of seconds turning to hours, perhaps made even longer by watching his 'Dogs in their first action since the championship game of the HALLiday Classic on December 28.
Last second heroics by Brandon Wurster and Aaron Braun brought Celina (5-4) a 61-59 overtime win over Rogers (3-7) in front of a sparse crowd at the Fieldhouse.
"I've got to sit down. I'm exhausted," Kanney joked at the start of the postgame interview, referring to the Bulldog comeback. "I don't need many like this."
The performances of Wurster and Braun became necessary because the Bulldogs blew a 25-8 second-quarter lead and had to rely on a clutch three-pointer by Wurster to send the game into overtime. Braun led the Bulldogs with 24 points and Wurster scored 14. The Rams' Brent Jones led all scorers with 25.
Celina saw that lead whittled to 25-15 at halftime, 39-30 at the end of the third quarter, and watched Rogers take a 48-43 lead midway through the fourth quarter. This was followed by a nightmarish stretch that saw point guard Seth Staugler thrust into a position that neither he nor Kanney wanted to see him in.
"We got real lax at the end of the first half," Kanney said. "That let them get to within 10 of us. They started being more aggressive against our zone and they've got some real quickness. We also gave up 40 points in the second half and that's a concern."
Celina trailed, 48-47, when Staugler fouled Davon Hunt, sending him to the line for one-and-one. Hunt hit the first shot, the Rams rebounded the second and Staugler was forced to pick up his third personal when he fouled Hunt a second time to try and regain possession. Hunt again hit the first shot and got his own rebound on the second, necessitating a fourth personal on Staugler to get the ball back. Hunt hit both of these for a 52-47 lead.
Scott Luthman's three-point play cut the margin to two with less than a minute to go, and Staugler found himself forced to pick up his fifth foul with 30 seconds left to get the ball back in the hands of the Bulldogs. Dajuan Mitchum hit the second of two free throws to make it 53-50.
Celina needed something big to happen, a three-point shot or a basket and foul to keep its hopes alive.
The Bulldogs got the something big on a rainbow from the left corner from Wurster with 18 seconds left, tying the game at 53-53.
The Bulldogs' defense stiffened and after knocking a pass out of bounds and forcing the Rams to inbound the ball in front of Celina's bench, the inbounds pass was tipped and Luthman fired a halfcourt shot at the buzzer that hit just to the left of the hoop, sending the game to overtime.
Wurster's performance in the closing seconds of regulation and during the first three minutes of overtime were noteworthy because the 6-4 senior had been saddled with his fourth personal early in the third quarter and had watched a good portion of Rogers' fourth-quarter charge from the bench.
"Brandon just never got untracked, really, until he hit that three," Kanney said. "He picked up a couple of cheap fouls early and even the one he fouled out on was questionable. It was good to see him step up at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime."
Celina came up with a stop on Rogers' first attempt in overtime and Wurster scored on a move through the lane to put Celina on top, 55-53. Wurster next hit a jumper from the right side for a 57-53 lead and then followed a pair of foul shots by the Rams' Jones with a shot inside that put Celina's lead at 59-55.
Hunt scored for Rogers to close the gap to two points and with Wurster holding the hot hand, the Bulldogs elected to go to him again. Wurster picked up his fifth personal, with 1:09 left, while trying to back his man down the lane.
Rogers used up a large chunk of the remaining time setting up Jones for a shot. Jones scored on a drive through the lane to tie the game, and set up Braun's game-winner.
"I told the kids at the timeout that we wanted to get the ball inside," Kanney said. "If it went to left side, Aaron was going to post up, if it went to the right, Scotty (Luthman) was going to get it. Scott got the call and put up a good shot that just didn't go in, and Aaron got the rebound. The shot didn't look like it wanted to go in, but he had enough mustard on it to get it over the rim."
The Bulldogs got the ball inside to Luthman, who put up the shot. Braun grabbed the offensive rebound and scored with 2.6 seconds remaining to move the Bulldogs over the .500 mark with the win.
"We made some mistakes in the second half," Kanney said. "We made some bad decisions, had some bad shot selection, the kind of things you're going to see when you haven't played in two weeks. Grant Riesen did a great job on Jones down the stretch and Aaron had a big stickback, so there were positives."
Celina returns to action on Friday, hosting Elida. Friday night's game against Kenton, a postponement due to the weather, will be rescheduled. The date has not been established.