By Randy Bruns
ELIDA -- For two quarters on Friday night the Celina Bulldogs harried and harassed the Elida Bulldogs and played right with the Western Buckeye League's top dawgs.
Then came the third quarter and things went awry in a hurry.
Elida outscored Celina 20-7 in the third frame to break open a tight game and went on to post a 48-37 victory.
The loss dropped Celina to 5-7 overall and 1-4 in the WBL, while Elida raised its record to 10-3 on the year and a perfect 5-0 in league play.
While the first half was by no means a textbook display of fundamental basketball, the visitors were able to stay in the game with some scrappy defense. Elida's Dustin Mathias, who came in averaging 16 points a game, was held scoreless in the first half, and his struggles carried over to the rest of the team, as the hosts shot just 33 percent. The visitors built a 19-14 lead near the end of the second quarter, but Elida's Kyle Miller, the son of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Mark Miller, stuck back a pair of buckets to make the score 19-18 at halftime.
"Celina came at us with great ball pressure and it made us force some bad passes," said Elida coach Chris Adams. "When you play Celina, you know they're going to play hard, they're going to play good defense, and they're going to execute their motion offense. They've been doing it for 20 years and they did it tonight, and it bothered us in the first half."
As well as Celina played in the first half, things went downhill quickly at the start of the second.
An intentional foul gave Elida what proved to be a four-point play in the first minute of action, and then Mathias knocked in his first points on a three-point bomb. Celina countered with a trey from Brian Dorsten and a stickback by Andy Muhlenkamp to pull within one at 25-24, but that mini-run would prove to be the high point of the second half for the visitors.
Mathias scored seven more points in the rest of the third quarter, as the hosts went on a 13-2 run to take a 12-point lead heading into the final period. The Elida lead ballooned to as high as 16 points in the fourth quarter before Celina ran off seven straight points to help make the final score closer.
The key to Celina's third-quarter undoing proved to be turnovers, as the visitors committed eight miscues in the frame to help feed Elida's rally.
"A lot of the things that happened in the third quarter came from us not keeping our composure," said Celina coach Chris Bihn. "You come into a hostile environment and you've got a million things against you, and you can use any excuse you want but it comes down to staying focused on what you want to do.
Celina was whistled for three intentional fouls in the second half, and Elida made them pay by hitting all six free throws and converting on two of the three ensuing possessions.
"The Elida players did a great job of getting after our players and frustrating them," said Bihn. "Our guys didn't respond to the situation very well, and that was the key to the second half. You're going to have periods in a game when things don't go well and you've got to stay focused. We didn't do that tonight."
Dorsten was the lone player from Celina in double digits with 12 points, while Elida was led by Mathias and Miller, who had 15 and 14, respectively.
Celina will play host to Coldwater tonight in what will no doubt be an emotional contest, as last year's Bulldog coach Mike Kanney will lead the Cavaliers into the Fieldhouse against Celina and his former assistant coach Bihn, who formerly coached at Coldwater.