CELINA — Wapakoneta Redskins coach Matt Bradley watched as his team’s lead shrank at break-neck speed.
But it never disappeared. Not completely.
One point was just enough.
Bradley’s Redskins held on for a 53-52 win in a Western Buckeye League varsity boys basketball game Friday at the Celina Fieldhouse after they built a 20-point first-half lead then watched as Celina cut it to one-point by the end of the third quarter.
Celina had three opportunities to take the lead in the final minute but failed to convert on each.
With 52 seconds left in the game, junior Braden Billger appeared to give the Bulldogs their first lead since the 7:18 mark of the first quarter. But he was called for a traveling violation and the basket was waved off.
The Bulldogs got the ball back with 14 seconds left after a Jake Buzzard miss. They got the ball inside to leading scorer Matt Buschur. His shot rimmed out and Buzzard grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled.
With 8.3 seconds on the clock, Buzzard missed the front end of the one-and-one at the other end. Freshman Ryan Hoyng got the ball, drove down the right side of the floor and fired a pass underneath to Buschur.
But Buzzard was there to break up the pass, grab the loose ball and fire it down the floor to a streaking Travis Bertram as time ran out.
“It’s fitting that it came down to getting stops,” Bradley said. “We’ve preached that all season. All week we’ve been talking about it.”
Bertram had a lights-out first-quarter, connecting on his first six field-goal attempts, including three 3-pointers, and scoring 15 of the Redskins’ 18 points in the period.
Wapak led 18-8 by quarter’s end and stretched it to 37-17 late in the second before Buschur’s three at the buzzer cut the gap to 37-20 at the half.
“I think every game this year it’s happened (getting in an early hole),” Celina coach Chris Bihn said. “We’ve done a good job this year of diggin ourselves holes early.”
Bertram scored five more in the second. But the rest of the Wapak offense caught fire too. Point guard Alex Greve scored eight of his season-high 14 points in the second. And Buzzard and senior Andy Faller each added a bucket.
Bertram would only score twice more in the contest to finish with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting (52.9 percent), including 5-of-9 (55.6 percent) from three-point range.
“We really challenged Travis this week that there is more to the game than scoring,” Bradley said. “I think he heard us. I think he defended well tonight. We’ve always known that he can score. I think he’s one of the best scorers in the league. And when he gets going, watch out. Once he figures it out at both ends, he’s really going to be a special player.”
He opened the third quarter with a layup, but wouldn’t score again until the 2:32 mark of the fourth quarter.
The third was all Celina. Wapak led 43-28 with five minutes left in the quarter before the Bulldogs scored 14 unanswered points to draw within one, 43-42, heading into the fourth.
“I wish I could say I was surprised,” Bradley said. “You know they’re going to make a run. You know they’re embarrassed to be down 17 points.”
Faller hit a quick baseline jumper and Buzzard had a couple big buckets early in the fourth quarter to guide Wapak to a 49-44 lead with 4:11 to play.
Celina chipped away at the lead once again until it made the mistake of leaving Bertram open on the left wing for a 3-pointer. He knocked down the shot to give the Redskins a 53-48 lead with 2:32 to play.
The Bulldogs scored on their next two possessions to get back to within one but couldn’t come up with the game-winner.
“They did a nice job of making Buschur go over the top of them,” Bihn said.
Buzzard finished with eight points on the night and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
With starting center Kaleb Vondenhuevel still recovering from an emergency appendectomy on Monday, Buzzard was called upon to play in the post. He struggled to find the range on his turn-around jumper and missed his first four field-goal attempts before starting to find his rhythm in the second quarter.
“He’s an incredibly skilled offensive player,” Bradley said. “We felt like, especially with Kaleb out, that we needed to utilize him down there. He can score down there. He’s got a great range of post moves when he wants to use them. And especially with our offense, when he pops out to the high post, they have to respect his jump shot.”
Buschur led Celina with 15 points and seven rebounds. Point guard Scott Moeder added 14 points despite missing much of the second quarter with foul trouble.
Both teams sport identical 4-6 overall records. Wapak is 1-2 in the WBL. Celina is 0-3.
The Redskins will host New Knoxville on Tuesday night.
Celina won the junior varsity contest 50-40 to hand Wapak just its second loss of the year.
The Bulldogs held a narrow 11-10 lead after one quarter but stretched it to 24-17 at the half.
Junior Brandon Erb led Wapak with 12 points.
Freshman Adam Henderson added seven points in just two quarters of play. Kodi Morgan scored six on two 3-pointers.