Athens defeated Wellston 62-53 Tuesday for its 15th win of the season and to claim the TVC-Ohio title.
Before the game started, the Bulldogs presented their senior players and cheerleaders to the massive group of Athens’ fans in the stands, and from that point forward, it was clear that Bulldogs’ fans were ready to see their team win back-to-back conference titles.
Athens came out and started their five senior players, meaning that junior standouts Brayden Whiting and Will Matters were taking a seat on the bench to start the game. That didn’t last long, however, with both guys checking in at the six-minute mark in the first quarter.
As soon as they came in, Matters seemed unstoppable. He hit his three 3-pointers off the bench and finished the quarter with nine points, which lead the team through one quarter of play.
The defense was on point during that opening quarter as well, allowing only eight points by the Rockets and locking them down en route to the beginning of a 15-0 run that would stretch to midway through the second quarter.
After finally getting a basket to fall to end that run by the Bulldogs, the Rockets’ defense started to click and was making sure that Athens couldn’t get a clean look off for the rest of the quarter. Their defense played so well that the Bulldogs only managed seven points during the second quarter, with most of those coming early during the end of that 15-0 run.
By halftime, the Rockets were rolling and beginning to close the gap the Bulldogs created during their scorching hot first quarter. Athens had a 26-21 lead.
“Halftime was rough to be honest,“ Cozart said. “We get in the habit of giving up big leads. When we get a lead, we have to learn how to play with a lead.”
After halftime, both teams got off to a slow start. Then each team went on their own runs, and by the time the quarter was up, the Bulldogs only made the gap a point bigger, with the score being 43-37 going into the fourth quarter.
To start the fourth, Wellston was gambling on both sides of the ball, going for steals in the passing lanes and taking some questionable 3-pointers. However, the Rockets’ gambles were paying off to begin the quarter, and their aggressive defense disrupted the Bulldogs’ motion offense.
The Rockets were closing in closer than they had gotten all game, and momentum seemed to be in their favor when senior point guard Andrew Stephens fouled out of the game with just over five-and-a-half minutes left to play. That’s when the rest of the seniors started to come through.
Senior standout Brayden Markins was in takeover mode, scoring pull-up jumpers and hitting a huge 3-pointer midway through the fourth to stop any last bit of momentum the Rockets had. Nate Trainer also stepped up on defense and snatched rebounds from the Rockets, harassing their guards who tried to drive on him.
In the end, the Bulldogs won the game 62-53, with Whiting leading the team with 22 points and Markins and Trainer combining to score 25 points . After the game, the coaches and players went back onto the court to cut the nets down and take team pictures with the trophy and their families.
With the Bulldogs done with league play, they have one more game at Jackson, and then they will plan for Marietta in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday, Feb. 18.