BERNE — Bluffton built a 10-point lead over South Adams going into the fourth quarter of their Sectional 38 opener Tuesday, then Tigers' coach Kevin Leising pulled the plug as his squad successfully kept the ball away from the SA defenders in an eventual 50-31 victory at the Stardome.
The win puts the 14-6 Tigers in the 7:30 p.m. semi-final game against 2-18 Woodlan Friday night. Adams Central, 13-7, will take on state 2A power Bishop Luers, 16-4, in the 6 p.m. semi-final.
"They scored two points and we went from a 10-point lead to 20," said Leising, defending his strategy to toss the ball around.
"You can continue to play against that 2-3 zone and if you miss a three and a two and a two, and they come down and hit a three — but if I was a sportswriter I'd say, 'Well, they're not going to do that;' — Hey, all three of us have been in this gym and we've watched something like that happen" in the sectional," explained Leising. The Tigers had only two turnovers while shortening the game in that final period.
A scrappy Michael Vanderkolk scored 19 of his 20 points in the first three quarters to boost the Tigers into the lead, then the Bluffton ballhandlers stayed one step ahead of a swarming Starfire rush for five minutes of that fourth period.
Center Keith Cochran scored on a point-blank shot to make it a 41-29 game with 2:58 to go and he later added two free throws. Dustin Wanner, who lead SA with 11 points, finally got the Stars on the board in the final period when he connected on a pair of charity tosses, but that's all the Starfires had. The Tigers scored the final seven points and skated to the semi-finals.
"They are just so athletic, and do a good job of holding the ball," stated SA coach Ryan Biegel. "(Chandler) Okey is a great player and does a good job of handling the ball. (Cam) Gerber doesn't score a lot but is also a good ballhandler, and there's always the big kid Cochran they can find when they do get trapped. We couldn't do much about it."
A strong Tigers' defense was also key in this game as the Stars hit only 12 of 49 shots overall, about 25 percent. Bluffton bagged 20 of 45, including 19 of 40 from close range.
Cochran, though well defended by South Adams inside players, scored 12 with seven rebounds and eight blocked shots. Okey, hitting five of eight mostly on layups, scored 13 and led his team with 10 rebounds.
Wanner scored 11 to lead the Stars, but hit 3 of 14, but was forced into nine turnovers. He lead with nine rebounds and three assists. Trevor White added six points while Blake Fox and Ben Meshberger scored four apiece. Meshberger had five rebounds and seven blocked shots.