By Michael Rich
Big Walnut scratched and clawed all night, but didn’t have enough to keep up with a 17-4 run in the closing minutes to give visiting Bishop Hartley a 53-43 victory Tuesday night in Sunbury.
The Hawks had three opportunities to tie it trailing 39-36 with 4:30 to go in the game.
“We had two turnovers that they capitalized on,” Eagles coach Brett Bartlett said. “When a team like that turns it up a notch – they stepped up and made plays and we just had a hard time scoring and getting stops.”
Michael Morgan Jr. made the first free throw with 4:06 left after teammate Garrett Tipton pulled down an offensive rebound. After he missed the second free throw, the rebound went out of bounds off BW, setting up the tying free throws by Jake Fischer with 3:46 left.
“Those back-to-back possessions in the middle of the fourth quarter really hurt us,” Bartlett said. “So, give (Hartley) credit.”
Fischer followed on the next possession with a three from the right wing to give Hartley a 42-39 lead. Fischer hit three threes for Hartley and finished with team-highs in both points (15) and rebounds (seven).
He went 6-for-6 from the foul line down the stretch to help Hartley (15-5), which went 9-for-13 as a team in the final period. Morgan Jr. had seven points, six steals and four rebounds for the Hawks.
Hayden Bowmar and Josh Seabrook – two of Big Walnut’s four seniors – paced the Eagles in their final home game.
Bowmar had a big third quarter, scoring 11 of his game-high 16 points. He also took a charge, blocked a shot and pulled down a key offensive rebound to help the Eagles gain a 36-34 lead.
“Bowmar has stepped up the last couple of games toward the end of the year,” Bartlett said. “He’s made some shots and got some rebounds as well. It was good to see that.
“We’ve got no reason to hang our heads with the way we competed. That was probably the most physical game we’ve been a part of all year – it was physical from the start. We battled and competed.”
Austin Becker fed Bowmar for the go-ahead basket with 1:04 remaining in the third. Becker had 7 points and 4 rebounds for BW.
Hartley had a couple of opportunities to blow it open early. The Hawks opened 6-0 on a pair of baskets by Tipton and one by Morgan Jr. and led 10-3 after Collins put in two more baskets.
Seabrook hit a pair of threes in the first from each wing to keep the Eagles close and they trailed 13-6 at the end of the period. Seabrook had a strong first half with eight points and six boards to pace BW.
Seabrook tied the game early in the second on a pair of free throws after Bowmar hit a three to open the scoring in the period. Seabrook finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
“(Seabrook) played really hard (Tuesday night),” Bartlett said. “I think he made his first three, which really got him going – got his confidence going. He competed on the glass for us. He really played well for us.”
But Hartley responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by Fischer’s two three-pointers that pushed the Hawk lead to 23-13.
Big Walnut (4-17) closed 6-0, which started on a three at the top of the key by Austin Becker. Henry von Hollen found Bowmar in the short corner to cap the mini-run, and the Eagles trailed 23-19 at the break.
Seabrook, Bowmar and fellow seniors Zachary Chucta and Darrius Watson were honored before the game. All four were in the starting lineup.
“We just wish we could have sent them out with a win here,” Bartlett said. “We have no reason to hang our heads with the effort we had and how hard we fought. It was good to see.”
Big Walnut also honored its timekeeper, Milan Orr, before the game. Orr is retiring after manning the clock for over 25 years and 700 games, according to BW athletic director Brian Shelton.
The Hawks defeated the Eagles 55-47 Dec. 28 in the finals of the Newark Catholic Holiday Tournament earlier this season.
BW closes out the regular season at Franklin Heights Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.