Riders Take Over Celina Fieldhouse

Jordan Moore and the St. Marys student section wave goodbye while chanting Na Na Hey Hey at the conclusion of Friday’s Western Buckeye League boys basketball game between the Roughriders and the Bulldogs.
Sports Editor

Despite all the agonizingly close losses, a seven-game losing streak — with a couple of blowout losses in between — and players' frustrations boiling over onto the court in what looked to be another losing season of St. Marys boys basketball, the Roughriders still beat their archival.

But not only did they beat Celina in Friday's 62-48 Western Buckeye League affair, they did it at the Celina Fieldhouse — a place they have not tasted victory at in 14 years — but not only did they shatter that streak, they also took over the fieldhouse when it was all said and done.

"Even though we have lost some close games, that has been our theme — keep the game close at halftime — and we have come out in the second half against Van Wert and against Elida," Roughriders coach Craig Szymczak said. "We have been able to dominate in the second half, we just have not been able to finish.

"It was the same thing tonight. It's a six-point game, they are playing off raw emotion up six, but hey, we have been there before and I am proud of the way we were able to keep our composure to come out and play great in the second half."

The Roughriders (6-10, 2-4 WBL) had been waiting for a night like Friday where they finally shot lights out — and they did in the second half — shooting 14-of-17 from the floor, connected on 11-of-15 from the free throw line and outscored the Bulldogs (5-13, 3-4) 44-24.

"It was everything," Szymczak said. "We hit some big shots, we got some layups on some steals and then the free throws we hit in the fourth quarter, they were able to get the game no closer than seven."

St. Marys endured its largest deficit, 24-18 at the half, but pulled with three when Carter Ballweg opened the second half with a 3-pointer. Austin Okeley and Brandon Yenser answered with buckets for Celina to lead 28-24 with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.

It was the last time the Bulldogs scored with the lead.

St. Marys connected on five of its net six shots from the floor and 13-of-14 overall from that 5:55 mark to the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter.

Kicking off the Roughriders' 14-0 run was a free throw by Ethan Steger, followed by a  3-pointer by the 6-foot-5 junior. Jack Cisco stole the ball and Braeden Dunlap cleaned up his missed layup to give St. Marys its first lead, 29-28. Ballweg connected on another 3-pointer to push the Riders' lead and Max Mielke scored the next five points to give the Roughriders a 37-28 lead.

By then, momentum was on the Riders' side and the St. Marys crowd took over the Celina Fieldhouse. During a Celina timeout with 1:31 left in the third quarter, Celina cheerleaders struggled to get the crowd in front of them cheering as they were drowned out by the St. Marys student section. The place that served as a house of horrors for previous St. Marys teams, became a funhouse for anybody donning the blue and gold at the fieldhouse.

By the end of the third quarter, the Roughriders led 41-31 and were looking to add on more.

The Roughriders opened the final quarter by making their first four shots — with Steger accounting for three of those field goals and eight points during that stretch — as St. Marys pushed its lead to 49-35 following Steger's latest 3-pointer with 4:30 remaining. 

Then came the closing act.

The Bulldogs closed within seven, 53-46 following a 3-pointer by Okeley — as part of  eight straight points scored by the Celina senior — with 1:37 left in the game, but the one Roughrider not known for his scoring, closed the game out.

Cisco iced Celina's comeback attempt with five straight free throws — eventually extending St. Marys' lead to 58-38 with 1:12 remaining. The first-year varsity point guard finished with his highest point total in a game this season with nine points.

"He handles the ball well too," Szymczak said. "In the last two games, beginning with Sidney, he handled the ball. When you know that they are going to come out and pressure you to try to get steals, we definitely have a guy who can handle the ball.

"He did a great job of stepping up and sealing it for us in the end."

To read the full story, be sure to grab Saturday's print edition of The Evening Leader.