By Robb Hemmelgarn
MINSTER -- For the second time in three outings, the Minster Wildcats hosted a nonleague opponent with an unblemished record, as the Ottoville Big Green arrived at Minster Middle School on Saturday night with a perfect 9-0 slate.
Despite jumping ahead early and pulling as close as five points late in the contest, the Wildcats were unable to overcome their distinct size disadvantage or deadly fourth-quarter free throw shooting by the Big Green, dropping their fourth game of the season by a final of 58-53.
"I'm very pleased to get out of here with a victory tonight," remarked Ottoville coach Tom Von Sossan. "Minster is a very strong team that plays very well at home. It was a battle from the start, but that is good for us. We haven't been in many adverse situations this season, and I'm very happy with the way the kids responded."
The Wildcats began the contest on fire in the first two minutes when a three-pointer by junior Jimmy Stechschulte and a bucket apiece by Andy Beckman and Zac Boeke gave the home team a 7-0 advantage. From there however, it was all Ottoville as Von Sossan's squad outscored Minster 14-4 the rest of the quarter, including a 7-0 run of its own in the final 2:44 of the period.
The beginning of the second frame was back and forth, with Minster keeping within five points the entire time and pulling to within one point on two different occasions. Leading 22-21 with 2:46 remaining in the first half, Ottoville picked up three more points to end the half with a 25-22 lead. In the first half, the Wildcats were led by Andy Beckman's eight points, while Ottoville's Josh Vorst picked up 15 counters.
"The mark of a very good basketball team is that when they get down or the game gets close, they respond in a big way," said Minster coach Mike Lee. "Ottoville is a very strong team and was able to come back when they got down in the beginning and they held us off the rest of the way."
The start of the second half brought the home crowd to their feet when Beckman drilled a three-point shot to knot things up at 25 points, but Ottoville answered in a hurry. The visitors scored the game's next seven points before Lee was forced to use a timeout.
Both teams traded punches the remainder of the quarter, but a three-point bomb by Ottoville's Tyler Miller at the buzzer gave the visitors a nine-point lead at 39-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
"We told the kids at halftime that we can't begin the third quarter like we started the game," explained Von Sossan. "Fortunately, we came out strong and were able to build our lead up at the end of the quarter. Minster made a couple of nice runs, but I'm happy with the way our kids were able to hold them off."
The Big Green picked up the first two points of the final period, but over the course of the next few minutes, Minster cut the deficit to five points at 47-42. Ottoville dispelled that in a hurry, scoring six straight points in a spurt that was capped by a steal at midcourt by Vorst and the ensuing lay in.
Over the final 1:30 of the contest, the Wildcats drained a trio of three pointers, two from Stechschulte and one from Beckman, but Ottoville held on for the five-point win after the visitors connected on seven-of-eight charity tosses in the final period.
"We look at tonight's game and I feel that the unforced turnovers are what really hurt us," said Lee. "We were giving them the ball and it wasn't like we were being double-teamed and there was a ton of pressure -- we just had a few mental lapses. It isn't anything to fault our guards on, who have played very well to this point in the season."
For Minster, Andy Beckman led the way with 19 points and six rebounds. The senior was joined in double digits by Jimmy Stechschulte with 17 points. Josh Vorst led the Big Green with 24 points, while Tyler Miller hit for 12 and Jason Wehri collected 10 points -- all of which came in the second half.
The Wildcats (4-4) are back in action Friday night when they play host to the Coldwater Cavaliers.