By Mark Ruschau
ST. MARYS -- How important was Friday night's Western Buckeye League showdown between Elida and St. Marys?
There was the obvious hype leading up to the game.
Both teams were 5-1 in the league, tied with Van Wert and Celina for the conference lead.
There were tournament-seed ramifications, as both teams were in a battle for the two seeds with Van Wert at the Lima Senior Division II sectional. With the tournament draw on Sunday, the winner looked to have a leg up.
The game was so important to St. Marys that Roughriders coach Josh Leslie decided to change the complete personality of his team. Going into the game, the 'Riders had a reputation of being a freewheeling, perimeter-oriented team. Leslie felt that it was to his team's advantage to be physical and play hard-nosed defense and pound the ball inside offensively against Elida. For one night, physical play worked for St. Marys as it played a solid defensive game and came up with enough offense inside to beat Elida, 34-31.
"There were two things we wanted to do in this game, one was pressure their shooters and make them become drivers," said Leslie. "The other thing we wanted to do was pound the post. It had to be obvious to everyone here that what we wanted to do was pound the post on every possession.
"I think the big key was that everyone had to buy into us pounding the ball inside since we have been a perimeter-oriented team before tonight," continued Leslie. "We changed what we wanted to do offensively and our outside shooters put their games aside and did what they had to do to help the team and I give them credit."
"I think the key to tonight's game was St. Marys, like Celina, has shown the ability to physically manhandle us defensively," said Elida coach Chris Adams. "When a team is physical with us and with the offense we run, each possession becomes labored.
"Our offense is based on side-top-side reversal, having our drivers drive and our shooters shoot and we never got that type of movement," continued Adams. "We ended up having too much dribble-drive."
On the defensive end, the Roughriders shutdown the Elida offense after the first period. In the opening period, Elida hit 6-of-8 shots from the floor. Over the final three quarters, Elida hit on just 7-of-28 from the floor.
On the offensive end, the 'Riders hit on just 3-of-8 from the three-point range and had just one three-point field attempt, a miss, in the second half.
Picking up the slack offensively for St. Marys was the inside game of powerful Adam Johns and slasher Todd Graves as they combined for 18 points and 11 rebounds.
This game was decided in the fourth period as the score was tied at 26 after three periods. Elida took the lead as Jason Sarno canned two free throws on their first trip of the period. After an exchange of empty trips, St. Marys tied the game on a basket inside by Johns.
Elida retook the lead with 4:31 left as Sarno penetrated and kicked the ball to Dustin Mathias who canned a three-point field goal to give the 'Dogs a 31-28 lead. The basket by Mathias proved to be the last points for Elida.
St. Marys retook the lead as it scored twice inside, one each by Wes Clark and Johns, in a span of 69 seconds to take a 32-31 with 2:01 left.
Elida turned the ball over with 1:29 left and Aaron Thompson missed a three with 41 seconds left on two important Bulldog possessions. Clark then scored the game's final points as he canned two free throws with 41 seconds left.
On the ensuing Elida trip, Clark made a steal and was fouled with 16 seconds left. After Clark missed the front end of a one-and-one, Sarno missed an off-balanced three pointer from the top of the key with two seconds to go but the ball was rebounded by teammate Mike Smith.
After a timeout, the inbounds pass was knocked away to midcourt as they buzzer sounded.
"With this group, we have had two great years defensively," said Leslie. "I think the majority of the game we did a good job of not giving them many good looks."
"Sarno's shot on that last possession was not the shot we wanted," said Adams. "It just came down to the fact that we did not do the things that we needed to do to get a road win the Western Buckeye League."
St. Marys takes to the road on Saturday, traveling to Greenville.