BUCYRUS — Survive and advance.
That post-season mantra was evident for the Colts, who took on Bellevue in the Northwest District sectional opener at Alex Kish Memorial Gymnasium here Wednesday night.
Clear Fork, fresh off an MOAC championship last weekend, had to rally from several deficits to beat the Redmen 63-56. The Colts, who compiled an 18-4 mark and were 12-2 in the conference, face Richland County rival and former Ohio Cardinal Conference nemesis Mansfield Senior.
“It’s gonna be a dogfight every night in the tournaments because records don’t matter any more,” Colts head coach Steven Bechtel said.
AJ Blubaugh, who got in foul trouble early, finished with a game-high 19 points and made several clutch shots.
“Merritt Burgholder gave us great minutes off the bench. His energy level was very high for us and it helped carry us until we got AJ back on the floor.”
Burhgholder, along with a zone defense employed in the second half, helped offset a height advantage that Bellville had with two starters at 6-foot-5.
“It really wasn’t tough to make the switch. They went to their Carolina set that they run. So at the timeout we changed our defense to kind of take that out of the equation. It ended up paying off for us.”
Blubaugh had help in a balanced attack with Gannon Seifert adding 12 points, Jared Schaefer, Brennan South and Brady Tedrow 10 each.
“I don’t think I get any of my points without my teammates. I got in foul trouble and everyone stepped up and filled in for me,” Blubaugh said. “Our seniors as a group have grown up together and we never want this to end. These are the funnest times of our lives.”
Bellevue lead 14-12 after one quarter before the Colts went up 32-25 at halftime. Schaefer’s basket made it 44-42 Clear Fork entering the final period.
“I’m glad it was a tight game,” Bechtel said. “We expect the same thing Friday night.”
Caleb Marshall had 17 for Bellevue, and Garrett Vickery netted 12.
They Tygers are a revered brand in north central Ohio arenas. That was punctuated by their crushing of Port Clinton 73-24 in the nightcap. They are ranked 4th in the district seeding and Clear Fork is 5th.
“Mansfield is Mansfield. When you think of the Tygers, what do you think of? Boys basketball. Our kids should be up to the challenge.”
The game tips off at approximately 8 p.m. Friday at Bucyrus High School. The opening game features #3 Vermillion against 10th-seed Shelby.