By Robb Hemmelgarn
ST. MARYS -- For coach Josh Leslie and his St. Marys Roughriders, the wins just keep coming.
Their latest, a six-point triumph last evening over the Defiance Bulldogs, wasn't pretty, but it was enough to give the Roughriders their sixth straight win and their 10th victory in 11 games on the season.
St. Marys (4-1 in the WBL) is also still in a first-place tie in the Western Buckeye League following the win with Celina, Elida and Van Wert. Defiance drops to 2-3 in league action.
The home team connected on 11-of-15 free throws in the final period to escape with the 46-40 win over the Bulldogs, who fall to 5-8 on the year.
"It wasn't easy, but we'll take it," commented Leslie. "I give Defiance a lot of credit -- we jumped on them early and they crawled back into it and never gave up. I'm very happy being 10-1 right now, but there are still a lot of things we have to work on in the coming weeks before tournament." The Roughriders put on an offensive clinic in the game's first five minutes, scoring the first 10 points before Defiance was able to dent the scoring column. St. Marys closed the opening stanza in command 13-4, dominating the boards both offensively and defensively, while Defiance was just 2-of-9 from the field in the opening eight minutes.
The Bulldogs shifted to a zone defense in the second quarter and gave the Roughriders fits. A three-point basket from Defiance's Nate Ripke was quickly matched by long-ball specialist Tom Burke. Just then, the visitors responded with a nine-point run, and took their first lead of the contest, 18-16. Both teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the first half before the Roughriders were able to pull in front 22-21 at intermission.
"We had a lot of trouble when they switched over to the zone defense," said Leslie. "We played too content and didn't try to push it up the floor against them. They took advantage of that and were able to cause problems for us."
Defiance continued to display the same resiliency in the third quarter, pulling ahead by five points at the three-minute mark of the period. Trailing 30-25, the 'Riders scored seven of the game's next nine points to knot things up at 32 points going into the fourth period.
"Tonight we didn't execute well at all in our half-court offensive game," remarked Leslie. "We had a lot of five-on-five situations and it showed we need to work harder at getting easier buckets."
Still struggling offensively early in the fourth quarter, the Roughriders resorted to mid-court stalling tactics and were able to eclipse over two minutes off of the game clock. They withstood four lead changes in the final period, and displayed an outstanding performance at the free-throw line before closing the battle with the six-point victory.
"Stalling was something we have never done since I have been here," said Leslie. "It wasn't really something we planned, but I felt we had to do something to cut down on mistakes offensively."
The Roughriders were led in scoring by Wes Clark's 18 points. The senior hit seven of his eight free-throw attempts and also collected three rebounds. He was joined in double digits by Burke's 10 points. Deron Steinke closed the game with a team-high six rebounds. Defiance was led in scoring and rebounding by senior Graham Wagner, who had 16 points and seven boards.
St. Marys will return to action on Friday when it travels to Hardin County to face the Kenton Wildcats in another WBL contest.