By Michael Rich
Adam Rieger’s free throw with 14.7 seconds left gave the Olentangy Orange boys basketball team just enough to knock off host Buckeye Valley 49-47 to close out 2015 with a win.
“We played a very scrappy team at their place,” Pioneers coach Anthony Calo said. “I thought our kids showed some toughness, some resilience and we didn’t play our best game, certainly. But, Buckeye Valley is a tough group – a scrappy group. They play really hard and it’s hard to win there.”
Grant Gossard led the Pioneers with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks, including one on the possession after Rieger’s go-ahead free throw.
“Grant Gossard was a man today,” Calo said. “He’s 6-8 and took two charges and we needed both of them to win the game. He played really hard … we needed every point, we needed every rebound (and) we needed every charge – he was great (Wednesday).”
The Barons had to fight back on multiple occasions. Gossard completed a three-point play with 2:32 left to give the Pioneers a 45-39 lead, the second of two and-ones in the final frame.
“I really thought our post defense was good (Wednesday night) for the most part,” Barons coach Andy Gast said. “We made him work. He got some big offensive rebounds and some and-ones there. But, I thought our kids battled.”
Jesse Tomlinson stole the ball at the top and laid it in on the other end to pull the Barons within four.
After an exchange of free throws gave the Pioneers a 47-42 lead with about a minute left, the Barons rallied to tie it.
Braxton Wells hit his third three-pointer of the night to cut it to two and Nick Hyatt followed by draining a pair of free throws to tie it with 19.7 seconds left.
“He’s really had a nice year for us,” Gast said. “He understands what we, as coaches, want him to do. He’s a very tough guy to match up with. He’s played really well.”
Evan Lewis pitched in 10 points and four rebounds.
Orange got off to a fast start – running out to an 8-2 lead thanks to four points each from Lewis and Cam Barron. The Pioneers led 10-6 after one.
The Barons got a couple of key three-pointers by Wells before Elijah Jackson hit a couple of free throws to give them the lead midway through the second quarter.
Colin Shepherd had a steal and layup late in the first half for his first points of the game, which gave Orange a 20-19 lead during a 6-1 run to cap the first half. He was held to five points, but contributed five rebounds, three steals and a couple of assists. The Pioneers held a 22-20 lead at the break.
“Colin helped us win (Wednesday),” Calo said. “He’s absolutely our unequivocal leader – we don’t take him off the floor unless it’s a quick breather or he’s in foul trouble. And he was just as happy as anybody after the win and I thought that was cool. We talk about we over me all the time.”
They started the third quarter with six of the first eight points before Buckeye Valley fought back again. After a pair of free throws by Grant Kelly and Tim Schilling, the Pioneers held a slim 34-33 lead after three quarters.
“I can’t ask my kids to play any harder,” Gast said. “We were outsized – obviously Orange is really big and athletic. We just came up short – we had some opportunities, though.”
Wells finished with 13 to lead Buckeye Valley (6-3). Hyatt scored 10 points. Kelly added nine points and five rebounds and Mitch Rotondo had eight boards and four steals – both team-highs. Max Rotondo also had eight boards for the Barons.
The Pioneers won last year’s meeting in thrilling fashion, as well. Shepherd found Gossard for a layup at the horn to give Orange a 57-56 win in Lewis Center after Hyatt had given the Barons the lead on a pair of free throws with about six seconds left.
Orange returns to OCC-Capital play at home against Big Walnut Tuesday night.
Buckeye Valley has extended time off and won’t be back in action until next Thursday night. But, that is a key MOAC-Red game against Jonathan Alder, who is also undefeated in the league at 5-0.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.