MARION — The Colts came here in search of a conference championship Friday night. But Pleasant had other plans.
The Spartans rallied to overcome the Colts 64-59 before a packed house. The victory closed the gap to within a game in the race for the MOAC title.
Clear Fork (16-4, 10-2) head coach Steven Bechtel expected a tough game.
“As soon as that buzzer rang the last time we played, we knew that coming down here we were going to get everything that Pleasant had.”
What the Spartans had (14-6, 9-3) was resiliency in the fourth quarter, trailing 45-40.
“They play hard, play with huge heart and get after it. They hit some big shots,” Bechtel said. “We took the lead and it didn’t affect them at all. It was two good teams going at each other and they made plays down the stretch.”
Spartans head coach Ben Snively credited his seniors.
“It’s just another example of their leadership. Whether it’s (Ethan) Warner, (Nick) Kimmel or (Gage) Williams, one of those three guys. Always in those tough situations, I have the confidence in them and they have the confidence in themselves to go ahead and shoot it.”
Warner led the way with 14 points; Williams added 12 and Kimmel 11. Cohl Ambrose came off the bench and contributed 10.
“I don’t foresee Clear Fork losing another game,” Snively said. “We said we might not win the title, but at least let’s try to give them all we got.”
Another senior helped seal the win for the Spartans.
“Gage Runda stepped up and hit two big free throws for us to put us up 2 possessions.”
Pleasant was 7-of-10 from the free throw line entering the final quarter, then went cold missing 6 out of 8 during one stretch. The hosts held a 32-26 halftime lead.
AJ Blubaugh netted 14 and Brennan South 13 to lead Clear Fork.
South hit a 3-pointer from the right wing and converted on a free throw for a 4-point play that that broke a 36-36 tie with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
“I thought we executed all right, but we didn’t finish as well as we had hoped,” Bechtel said.
“In high school, a 3-pointer, or a 4, which obviously doesn’t happen very often, usually gets the crowd into it and the players. That gave us the lead.
“We missed some easy shots that we normally make. We got to just push through this and get ready for next Thursday.”
Clear Fork faces Bellevue on Feb. 27 at Bucyrus High School in the sectional opener of the Northwest District tournament.
Tip-off is at 6:15 p.m. Mansfield Senior plays Port Clinton in the second game. Winners play Friday, March 1 at the same site.
“Its going to be rough. Our sectional is very good with a lot of very good basketball teams,” Bechtel said prior to Sunday’s tourney draw.