By Charlie Warnimont
Sentinel Sports Editor

FINDLAY - Plan A didn't work out for Columbus Grove, but a quick adjustment to the plan turned out to be just fine for the Bulldogs.

The adjustment to the coach's plan resulted in Collin Grothaus pulling up for a three-pointer with time winding down. Grothaus' shot hit nothing but net to lift the Bulldogs to a 47-45 win over Vanlue in the second game of the Division IV district semi-finals Tuesday night at Liberty-Benton High School.

The win sends the Bulldogs (17-7) to the district finals Friday night at Liberty-Benton against Putnam County League foe Leipsic (21-4) at 7 p.m. for a right to play in the Bowling Green State University regional next Tuesday. The Vikings advanced to the finals with a 7-1-50 win over Arlington in the first game.

Columbus Grove had a 26-23 halftime lead, but saw the Wildcats catch fire in the third quarter to take a 36-31 lead to the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 36-36 as Grothaus had three of the points, a free throw and basket.

The Wildcats (18-7) regained the lead on a three-pointer by Austin Smith before the Bulldogs Blake Hoffman and Grothaus hit back-to-back three-pointers for a 42-39 lead with 2:48 left. Another three-pointer by Vanlue's Smith tied the game before Will Vorhees hit a mid-range jumper with 2:15 left that gave the Bulldogs a 44-42.

Vanlue came back to take a 45-44 lead as Zach Garber hit the second of two free throws with 1:41 left and Nick Hagerty canned a jumper with a minute left. In the next 50 seconds the Bulldogs missed a pair of shots and the Wildcats one to setup the exciting finish.

After a Grove timeout with 21.2 seconds left, the Bulldogs worked the clock before Grothaus launched a three-pointer inside of 10 seconds left. The shot missed, but the rebound bounced out of bounds off a Vanlue player giving the Bulldogs another chance. Columbus Grove was looking to get the ball to Vorhees or Rieman for a short range shot, or layup, but Vorhees was well covered after getting the ball and he dished it over to Grothaus, who took a couple of dribbles before pulling up for a 25 footer that hit nothing but net sending the Bulldogs student section rushing onto the floor to mob their hero.

"I didn't have any time to think about it," Grothaus said of the shot. "There wasn't much time left and I just put it up. It felt good, I fell down and hoped it would go in. I saw it go through the net and I just had to celebrate after that. We were running a play for Vorhees or Rieman, but they covered the blocks and we threw it over the top. I got it and had to make a play."

"Collin had the game of his career," Grove coach Ryan Stechschulte said. "We had a senior that wasn't ready to go home yet. That's just kind of the way it is."

Grothaus finished with a game high 22 points, that included five three-point goals.

Ten of the seniors points came in the opening quarter as he kept the Bulldogs within reach of the Wildcats. Grothaus hit two three-pointers and a pair of two-point baskets as Columbus Grove trailed 16-13 after one as Linden Smith had putback just before the buzzer for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats went up 18-13 early in the second quarter on a putback by 6-10 University of Toledo recruit Zach Garber before Grove went on a 11-0 run that gave them a 24-18 lead. Grothaus opened the run with his third three-pointer of the game before sophomore Jace Darbyshire stepped up and hit four free throws, while Rieman and Vorhees added baskets.

A Garber basket ended the Bulldog run before Brady Shafer answered back for the Bulldogs. A three-pointer by Hagerty ended the first half scoring leaving the Wildcats down three.

After a good offensive first half, the Bulldogs struggled in the third quarter scoring just five points. Shafer had three of the Bulldogs points and Vorhees the other two as Vanlue ended the quarter with a 6-0 run to take a 36-31 lead. Hagerty had eight points in the quarter for the Wildcats as he hit a pair of three-pointers and Josh Clymer had four points.

"The second half the pace really slowed," Stechschulte said. "As hot as Grothaus was the first half, even though we were running stuff for him we had to run our counters off them because they were paying so much attention to him. And we had success with them."

While Grothaus was the only Grove player in double digits, the Wildcats managed two in Garber, with 15 points, and Hagerty with 13. Although Garber was a physical presence inside for Vanlue, he had to work for everything he got as the Bulldogs double teamed him quite frequently when Rieman or Vorhees wasn't playing him straight up. And when Garber didn't have a shot he often kicked the ball out to a teammate for a three-point attempt. The Wildcats hit eight three-pointers in the game. Garber did step out and make two three-pointers.

"I truly believe you have to make the role players beat you," Stechschulte said. "A bunch of kids shooting in the high 20's or low 30's from three? Or a kid that's going to play at the University of Toledo? I don't think that's a hard option to choose. We went right at Garber all night and I think we really did a good job of it. He's tough to defend, but I think we made him work and I attribute that to Will and Derek going after him all night long."

Garber did pull down 11 rebounds in the setback as a handful of his shots were second or third attempts.

The problem for the Wildcats was that they were just 1-of-5 at the free throw line, while Grove was 9-of-14.

"We didn't make our free throws again and we got manhandled on the boards at times when Zach wasn't able to get the rebound," Vanlue coach Dean Birchmeier said. "It was a pretty solid effort for us. I told the guys we played well enough to win, we just didn't."

* * *

Vanlue 18-37 1-5 45: Zach Garber 7-0-15; Nick Hagerty 5-0-13; Josh Clymer 3-0-7; Linden Smith 2-0-4; Dylan Watson 0-0-0; Austin Smith 2-0-6.

Columbus Grove 16-41 9-14 47: Collin Grothaus 8-1-22; Blake Hoffman 1-1-4; Derek Rieman 2-0-4; Jace Darbyshire 0-4-4; Brady Shafer 2-1-5; Will Vorhees 3-2-8; Joey Warnecke 0-0-0.

Vanlue 16 7 13 9 - 45

Columbus Grove 13 13 5 16 - 47

Three-point goals: Columbus Grove 6-10 (Grothaus 5, Hoffman 1); Vanlue 8-21 (Hagerty 3, A. Smith 2, Garber 2, Clymer 1).

Rebounds: Columbus Grove 28 (Shafer 7); Vanlue 22 (Garber 11).

Turnovers: Vanlue 9, Columbus Grove 5.