Three Wells County teams vying for boys regional basketball titles fell short in their bid to advance to the IHSAA semi-state this weekend with both Bluffton and Norwell faltering in the fourth period to be eliminated. Southern Wells fell to Rockville 56-39 in a Class A Regional game at Frankfort.
Bluffton saw Tipton post a 16-10 advantage in the fourth period to earn a 47-43 win over the Tigers while at Blackford, Harding tipped Norwell 53-52 by erasing a fourth period Knight lead.
At Blackford High School in Hartford City, the Knights dropped a heartbreaker as Harding's Michael Stevenson hit a pair of free throws with six ticks left in the game and the Hawks stripped the ball from sophomore sensation guard Josh Vanmeter as he was driving to the hoop for what would have been the game winning points for Norwell with just two seconds remaining to play.
"I thought he (Stevenson) got him (Vanmeter) across the body, but they're not going to call a foul in that situation," noted Norwell coach Randy Hawkins.
Stevenson was the main offensive plug for the Hawks, playing in their last IHSAA tournament (Harding will be closing after this year). He tallied 25 points while handing out four assists. He also snared nine rebounds and had three steals, including the final one which clinched the game for Harding. Entering the game, Stevenson averaged just 10.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Norwell had tied up Harding's leading scorer, V. J. Beachen, who came to the game with a 19 point per game average and was held to just eight by the Knights.
Norwell led by as many as seven in the third period. They never trailed until Harding went up 47-45 in the final stanza with 4:33 to play. A 6'7, 6'6, 6'5 front line for Harding finally wore the Knights down however causing Hawkins to say "their game is offensive glass, offensive glass, offensive glass. They get so many points on tip-ins and putbacks. Our focus was on blocking out and making them beat us from the outside. We had a couple of spells where we didn't do that and a team like Harding will take advantage."
Vanmeter led the Knights in scoring with 20, including all 13 of the Norwell points in round two but was held to one field goal and two free throws in the second half. Norwell's Kyle Fillman added a double-double with 12 rebounds and 11 points. Norwell finished its season at 16-7 while Harding, which then lost to Columbia City in the championship game Saturday night, was 10-11.
At Tipton, the Blue Devils used a home court advantage to rally past the Tigers and Coach Kevin Leising.
Tipton shot just 24 percent in the opening half but nailed 5-6 in the final eight minutes while Bluffton could convert only two baskets in the fatal fourth, both coming in the final minute of play when the game was out-of-reach.
Bluffton was up 22-15 at the half but the final period was all Tipton. The momentum of the game changed when Blue Devil Brady Dolezal picked off a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for a basket. Later in the period, Bluffton's Keith Cochran deposited two free throws in the bank for a 36-36 tie but Tipton counted the next seven points.
A three-pointer at the buzzer by Bluffton's Chandler Prible brought the final margin of victory to four for Tipton, 24,2, which advances to the semi-state Saturday at Huntington North against unbeaten Hammond Bishop Noll.
"We were ahead a lot more than we were behind, but in the end, it doesn't matter, analyzed Leising, a former head coach at Bellmont.