DELAWARE — Even with the right planning and hard work, a little luck is helpful.
Unfortunately for the Danville Blue Devils (8-13), the luck they found in a tight ballgame wasn’t the kind they were looking for in the end.
The seventh-seeded Wellington School Jaguars ended Danville’s tournament hopes Saturday night, defeating them, 50-44, with some key foul shots in the waning minutes of their OHSAA Central District Division IV boys tournament game at Delaware Hayes High School.
“Our guys played hard,” said Danville coach Randy Endsley. “[Wellington] kept coming at us. They’ve got some good size inside and they are well coached. They made some shots when they needed to, and they made some free throws when they needed to.”
Danville’s leading scorer Rhett Harris (23 points) hit a 3-pointer to grab an 11-5 lead for his team in the first quarter, then the Blue Devils slowed down the ball against the Jaguars.
On defense, Danville took advantage of Wellington’s lack of outside shooting and stopped the Jaguars under the board. The Devils crowded the inside on defense and used their height to stop Wellington’s 6-foot-3 center Jacob Robinson (11 points, five rebounds).
“That was the plan,” said Endsley. “Then, when we lost Harris for a while, we had to slow down the ball so we could get him back in the ballgame in the second half.”
“[Danville] must have done a heck of a job with the scouting report. They packed it in with a one-three-one zone and we wanted to go big,” said Wellington coach Brian McCants.
The Jaguars turned up the pressure on both ends of the court and whittled down Danville’s lead. Robinson’s mid-court steal and drive to the basket, midway through the second, brought Wellington to within a point, 13-12. A layup by Armand Troy on the next trip down the court gave the Jaguars a 14-13 lead.
“We knew they were athletic,” said Endsley. “We knew they would be physical. Our kids never quit and they were trying to do what we worked on for a week.”
Kelby Ball broke a 15-15 deadlock before the half with a bucket and a foul shot, giving the Devils the lead going into the locker room.
Ball took the inbound to start the second half and hit the basket to up the Devils’ lead to 20-15.
Midway through the third, Ball grabbed a steal and took it all the way to the hoop. He followed with another three-point play, sinking a foul shot to make it 26-18, Danville’s biggest lead of the half.
Danville slowed it down again, but the Jaguars chipped away. Late in the third, Troy fed teammate Ben Utz underneath to shrink the Devil’s lead to 31-29. Troy then hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth and give Wellington a 32-31 lead.
Now, it was time for Wellington to turn the tables on the Blue Devils.
“Yeah, we wanted to do to [Danville] what they did to us in the first half,” said McCants. “That’s what I told them, ‘Let’s bring them out of that zone and play man to man.’”
That left the Jaguars some daylight inside, which helped them build a 45-40 lead. The Devils’ only field goal in the final four minutes of the game was a Harris 3-pointer. That meant they were forced to foul Wellington down the stretch. The Jaguars were 18-for-29 from the line for the game.
“They came out to the perimeter overzealously and started fouling us,” said McCants. “We knew we could beat them at the foul line. Thank God we hit the free throws at the end.”
For a team that lost 20 games last season, the Blue Devils can look at this season the next few with enthusiasm — despite Saturday’s loss.
“We have five juniors and four sophomores coming back next year,” said Endsley. “I hope they got a taste that we were in the ball game and had an opportunity to win. A shot didn’t fall here or there, and Wellington made theirs. I’m enthused about our future. Now we have something to work for — we will just keep working.”
Wellington will meet Newark Catholic at the Columbus Fairgrounds, hoping for a repeat of last year, when the Jaguars upset Newark Catholic.