By BRIAN LESTER
FREMONT — Unlike the last game in December when Findlay High blitzed Fremont Ross by 37 points, the story line was decidedly different Friday night.
It came down to one play.
The Trojans needed a basket and the Little Giants needed a stop in a riveting Three Rivers Athletic Conference battle between two longtime rivals.
The ball was put in the hands of Michael Clark with 4.4 seconds on the clock in a moment filled with pressure. The Findlay High junior launched a 3-pointer. It was off the mark.
Austin Gutting threw up a desperation shot on the rebound as time expired, but that was missed as well and the Little Giants hung on for a 37-35 win, avenging the 71-34 setback it suffered in Findlay on Dec. 21.
Ross students poured onto the floor to celebrate while the Trojans walked away stung by yet another setback.
Findlay (9-8, 5-5 TRAC) has lost six of its last nine games.
“We had a couple of different things set up on the last play,” Findlay head coach Jim Rucki said. “We thought if they didn’t guard the ball out of bounds, we could throw it in and get the ball back to Michael. It wasn’t a great look, but it came down to one shot.”
Ross head coach Mark Gedeon said the Trojans’ last-second play was exactly what he prepared his team for in the final timeout.
“As coaches, you scout and you go over film, and what they lined up in is what we thought they would do,” Gedeon said. “Our defensive pressure was good. I can’t say enough about our kids being mentally focused in a key situation.”
The Little Giants (11-6, 6-5) seemed focused throughout. Their pressure was good defensively, especially on the perimeter, and they made life tough inside for Gutting.
The junior post was hounded nearly every time he had the ball and ended up scoring eight of his 14 points from the free-throw line. Gutting was the only player in double figures for the Trojans, who were 11 of 41 shooting from the floor.
“He was obviously the focal point of our defense. Not only is he big, but he is basketball-skilled,” Gedeon said. “We wanted to limit his touches and force him into situations where we made it difficult for him to score. Our pressure was good and so was our discipline.”
The game was knotted 6-6 after one quarter and the Trojans took an 18-16 lead into halftime thanks to six points by Gutting in the second quarter.
But the third quarter seemed to be the turning point.
The quarter opened with Fremont’s Tyler Wolfe having his legs taken out from underneath him as he went up for a layup. Wolfe bruised his tailbone and never returned but the intensity of the game picked up from there and the Little Giants came through with several momentum-swinging shots that fueled a 10-1 run.
Jared Ballenger started the spurt by driving baseline for a reverse layup for a 21-20 lead and Alex Metcalf drilled a 3-pointer in the corner. Ross led 29-21 at the end of the run and went into the fourth with a 29-24 advantage.
“They made a couple of nice plays and we were just stagnant on offense,” Rucki said. “We couldn’t get anything going. Their help defense was good and we couldn’t make shots.”
Still, even with the crowd energized and the victory hopes fading after Drew Starks nailed a 3-pointer off of an offensive rebound to stretch the Ross lead to 36-28 with five minutes remaining, the Trojans refused to fold.
They tightened up on defense and cut the lead to one on a layup by Gutting, a trey by Clark and a layup by Adam Twining.
Jack Gedeon split a pair of free throws to push the Ross lead to 37-35 and set the stage for a last-second shot. Ross, though, showed poise in crunch time.
“Give Findlay a lot of credit for coming back. They are well-coached and play very disciplined and hard,” Gedeon said. “It took a lot for us to win this game. I thought our kids were mentally tough all the way through and we competed hard.”
Ross was 13 of 38 shooting from the floor and Starks led the way with 13 points.
Although the loss was tough to digest, the Trojans are focused on moving forward.
“We knew it wouldn’t be like the first time we played them,” Rucki said. “They played well. We just have to try and keep getting better. We have had some ups and downs and have to get on an upward plane and stay there.”
The Trojans will get a chance to just that today as they host Lima Shawnee.
FINDLAY (9-8, 5-5)
Gutting 2-8—14, Clark 2-0—6, Twining 2-2—6, Davidson 2-0—4, Miller 1-0—3, Kairys 1-0—2. Totals: 11-41 10-14—35.
FREMONT ROSS (11-6, 6-5)
Starks 6-0—13, Metcalf 3-2—9, Gedeon 1-2—4, Jones 2-0—4, Ballenger 1-1—3, Solander 0-2—2, Jagodzinski 1-0—2. Totals: 13-38 7-13— 37.
Findlay 6 12 6 11 — 35
Fremont Ross 6 10 13 8 — 37
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 2 (Clark 2); Fremont Ross 2 (Starks, Metcalf).
rebounds: Findlay 25, Fremont Ross 16.
turnovers: Findlay 9, Fremont Ross 10.
junior varsity: Findlay, 49-38.