GIBSONBURG - For a half, the young Toledo Christian boys basketball team held its own against Norwalk St. Paul in its Division IV boys district semifinal.
But the Eagles couldn't keep up with St. Paul in the third period, and that proved to be TC's downfall in a 44-35 loss.
The loss ends Toledo Christian's season at 12-10, while Norwalk St. Paul advances to Friday's district final against Ottawa Hills with a 14-9 mark.
The Eagles didn't score in the first six minutes of the contest, falling behind the Flyers 6-0. But a jumper by Luke Sims and back-to-back 3-pointers by Nick Rightnowar in the final minute helped the Eagles tie the game at 8-8 after one quarter.
Toledo Christian struggled on offense early in the second quarter, but used a 7-2 rush in the final four minutes of the first half to led 19-17 at the break.
But in the first two minutes of the third quarter St. Paul's Daniel Tracht hit a pair of 3-pointers and Daren Smith added a basket that swung the lead into the Flyers' favor 25-19.
"I thought we executed our game plan until they spread the floor [to start the third quarter]," Toledo Christian coach Dave McWhinnie said. "They came out in the third quarter and hit a couple of 3's, and the last one was from about 30 feet [out], and that was a killer.
"I knew we had to play from even or ahead to beat them. When they hit that second 3, we were down six and it was a big momentum shift."
St. Paul outscored the Eagles 16-5 in the third period to lead 33-24, and Toledo Christian came no closer than four points in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles struggled on offense, making just 16 of 42 shots from the field (38.1 percent) and needed to grab 13 rebounds in the fourth period to cut their rebounding deficit for the game to 27-25.
"[Norwalk St. Paul] just clogged the middle," said TC's Jacob Weemes, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds
Eric Schwieterman and Smith topped the Flyers with nine points apiece in a game in which Norwalk St. Paul's experience - all five starters were seniors - came in stark contrast to the Toledo Christian lineup. All but one of the Eagles' points came from a non-senior.
"We wish our seniors well - they're going to be great adult men," McWhinnie said. "We're excited about the players we have coming back, but our guys need to work on outside shooting and ball-handling so we can be better next year."
- JOHN WAGNER