By DAVE HANNEMAN
TONTOGANY — Matt Mesker spent most of Thursday’s game being a bit defensive.
But when the Perrysburg senior went on the offensive, the Yellow Jackets were headed to the district championship game.
Mesker, 5-foot-9 and stickier than duct tape, came up with a steal and converted a lay up with 1:16 to play and Findlay could not connect on two chances for a game-tying 3-pointer as Perrysburg edged the Trojans 41-38 in the Division I district semifinals at Otsego High School.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” Perrysburg coach Dave Boyce said after Findlay erased a 10-point deficit and took a 38-37 lead on Michael Clark’s 3-pointer with 2:25 to play.
“A couple of things didn’t go our way, but we didn’t lose our composure. Our time outs were very controlled, the kids were talking to each other and they never lost their focus.”
Perrysburg (21-3) will face Mansfield Senior (17-7) Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Division I district championship game at Bowling Green State University.
Findlay ended its season at 17-6.
“It’s tough right now. You never really know what to say,” said Findlay coach Jim Rucki, who will lose six seniors, four of them two- and three-year starters, from a strong class that won almost 50 games over the past three seasons.
“Except for one team in each division, everybody in Ohio ends their season earlier than they hope to. We have guys who have been doing this for awhile. They’ve meant a tremendous amount to this program, and they know it’s over.
“It’s tough. Really tough.”
Findlay led 10-8 after the first quarter and 20-19 at the half. The lead went to 23-19 when Braden Miller drained a three from the top of the key to open the third quarter, but Findlay wouldn’t score another point the rest of the period against a triangle-and-two Perrysburg defense that was determined to take Adam Twining and Clark out of the offensive flow.
“We were indecisive about what we should do and we didn’t put the ball in the basket,” Rucki said.
“(Perrysburg) was doing a nice job defensively and we were back on our heels.”
Nick Moschetti, a marksman from the outside with the added ability to penetrate and create off the dribble, drained two 3-pointers in the third quarter. The first gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead (26-23) since they led 2-0, The second, put Perrysburg up 10 (33-23) entering the fourth quarter.
“(Findlay) shot the ball well, except for that one stretch in the third quarter,” Boyce said. “They missed some shots (1 of 9 in the quarter), and when they did we were able to rebound (8-3 edge), push it, and get some separation.”
Findlay’s veterans were not about to go meekly into the history books, though.
Twining scored to open the fourth quarter, Austin Gutting tipped in a missed shot and Twining converted one of two free throws attempts to halve the 10-point deficit in the first 1:06 of the period.
“We knew we needed to step up big,” Twining said. “We talked about winning the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. We did that and got back in the game.”
Moschetti answered for Perrysburg, but Grant Niswander (11 points) nailed a 3-pointer and Clark scored off a steal. Moschetti, who led all scorers with 21 points, hit two free throws with 4:44 to play to make it 37-33. Twining answered with two free throws of his own and Clark followed with his 3-pointer to put Findlay up 38-37 with 2:25 left.
“Our guys responded in the fourth quarter,” Rucki said.
“We came out, hit a couple of shots, made some defensive plays and got back in it. They didn’t want to be done, yet.”
Matt Kaczinski scored the last of his 10 points on a jumper in the lane to put Perrysburg back in front. Mesker, who spent the entire night hawking Twining in Perrysburg’s triangle-and-two defense, then came up with his steal and only basket of the game to make it 41-38.
Perrysburg could have padded the lead. But Moschetti had a lay-up roll of the iron with 46 seconds on the clock. Findlay then it’s last chance, but 3-pointers by Miller and Twining would not fall.
“This hurts, especially because this is it for our seniors,” Twining said.
“We’ve stuck together since we were little guys. I think it was fifth or sixth grade when we started playing together. The last thing coach says after every practice and every game is ‘stick together,’ and we’ve done that. We’re family.
“You always want to be on the winning side. Only one team in Division I goes out winner and they have to win the state championship to do that. As great as that would be, we just didn’t get that this year … and it hurts.”
Twining, who will play college ball for the University of Findlay, had 11 points, surpassing the 700-point mark for his Findlay High career. Gutting, who ends his career with almost 800 points, scored six on Thursday and had a team-high seven rebounds. Clark, who broke FHS records for games played and career assists, and Miller had five points each.
“This may be the last time we play together,” Miller said. “But these guys are family and they’re always going to be family.”
“Playing for coach Rucki and being a part of this program for four years has been privilege. I would not have wanted it any other way,” Clark said.
“I hope the younger guys learned something from the senior class this year. And I hope they can carry on the tradition and make it farther than we did this year.”
Thomas 0-4 0-0 0, Mesker 1-3 0-0 2, Kaczinski 5-7 0-0 10, Moschetti 8-11 2-2 21, Patterson 4-7 0-0 8, Zimmerman 0-1 0-0 0, Hafner 0-3 0-0 0. TOTALS: 18-38 2-4—41.
B. Miller 2-4 0-0 5, Niswander 4-8 0-0 11, Clark 2-8 0-0 5, Twining 3-7 5-8 11, Gutting 2-8 2-3 6, McKinniss 0-1 0-0 0, C. Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Gobrecht 0-0 0-0 0, Kairys 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 13-36 7-11—38.
Perrysburg 8 11 14 8 — 41
Findlay 10 10 3 15 — 38
3-POINT GOALS: Perrysburg 3-10 (Thomas 0-3, Mesker 0-2, Moschetti 3-4, Hafner 0-1); Findlay 5-18 (B. Miller 1-3, Niswander 3-7, Clark 1-6, Twining 0-1, C. Miller 0-1).
REBOUNDS: Perrysburg 25 (Moschetti 6, Patterson 4); Findlay 24 (Gutting 7, Niswander 6, B. Miller 4).
TURNOVERS: Perrysburg 9, Findlay 11.
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