If one thrilling night is any indication, the race for the Northern Buckeye Conference boys basketball title should end the same way as Friday’s first game between the top two contenders.
Brimming with white-knuckle drama.
Lake’s Jared Rettig hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:35 remaining in overtime and the visiting Flyers held on for a 67-65 comeback win over Rossford, escaping this battle of conference unbeatens with their perfect season intact and the early inside track for the NBC championship.
Lake (10-0, 5-0 NBC) will host the Bulldogs — a preseason favorite to capture their first league basketball title since 1993 — for Round 2 on Feb. 11.
"We know we’re the two top dogs," said Rettig, who finished with a game-high 24 points. "We knew this was going to tell us where we are. Getting the win is definitely big. Now, we control our own destiny."
If it was not always the neatest game — the bitter frost limited the teams to a combined three practices last week — it was always entertaining.
Not until a missed free throw with no time remaining could Lake’s players and coaches explode off the bench in celebration.
Rossford, which returns five starters, kept a narrow lead for much of the night behind its balanced offense. Derek Mack scored 18 points, Mack Miller put in 11, and Brian Burks and Cota Sinclair each added 10 as the Bulldogs (7-4, 4-1) built a 57-51 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
But the Flyers answered from deep, the same way they had throughout a night in which they made 11 of 29 3-pointers. Connor Bowen and Cody Witt hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 57 and Bowen — who added 16 points — followed with a game-tying runner for the final points of regulation with 1:13 remaining.
Rettig then scored the first five points of overtime, including the biggest 3 of them all — an open look from the wing that pushed Rossford ahead for good 64-62.
"A team like this you've just got to hope they're going to miss more than they make," Bulldogs coach Brian Vorst said. "Tonight they hit them big when they needed them down the stretch. We got out of our assignments. When we stayed in them, I thought we did a pretty good job."
Lake desperately clenched onto the lead. After freshman Jacob Rettig made one of two free throws to give the Flyers a 67-65 lead with six seconds left, Miller sprinted up the floor. He was fouled on a drive with no time on the clock but missed the first shot to end the game.
"I just thought it was a great high school basketball game between two teams that are really balanced," Vorst said.
Lake coach Ryan Bowen, meanwhile, may have discovered the secret to success.
"Not practicing, that’s where it’s at," he said with a laugh.
"Rossford's a tough team, and Brian does a phenomenal job with those guys," said Bowen, whose team squeezed in one practice since last weekend. "This had nothing to do with us coaches. It was all the kids tonight.
"We told the boys, ‘It's on your guys' shoulders.’ We didn't prepare, so we weren't able to set anything up. All the credit goes to our players."