WESTFIELD TWP. — The 2012-13 season started a lot like the 2011-12 campaign ended for the Cloverleaf boys basketball program. Then the Colts stunningly turned their 1-20 record and 14-game losing streak to end last season into ancient history.
Down 15 points just 5ﾽ minutes into the game and seemingly on the verge of getting blown out of their own gym in Marty Ryan’s debut as coach, the Colts flipped the switch and stormed back to beat Wooster 70-67 Friday in non-league action.
“It’s a great feeling,” said junior small forward Adam Podolak, who put up 13 points, five rebounds and four assists and canned four straight free throws in the final 19.5 seconds to ice the win. “Hopefully, we’ll do it again the next game (Tuesday at Holy Name). Going 1-20 was rough, but to start with a win is unbelievable. Everyone will go home with a smile on their face.”
The Colts, who Tuesday learned they had lost starting power forward J.D. Schleich for the season due to impending shoulder surgery in January, fell behind 8-0 in the first 2:04 and were down 19-4 with 2:27 left in the opening period.
Wooster, which went 8-13 a year ago but returned three double-figure scorers, was having its way in unbelievably easy fashion at that point, but when coach Craig Martin started substituting freely, the Generals lost all their momentum.
At the same time, Ryan put in senior forward Robby Buckwald, who didn’t start because he missed a handful of practices to go on a family deer-hunting trip.
Buckwald not only got “a big doe,” he finished with 21 points and seven rebounds and sparked a game-changing 12-0 run that got the Colts within 19-16 at the end of the first period.
“That really halted their momentum and was a big confidence-booster for us,” Ryan said. “That served as a catalyst.”
The Colts were up 35-31 at halftime, but seemed to be on the verge of falling apart again when the Generals went on a 9-0 run to go up 49-42 with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
Unlike last season, however, the Colts pulled things together and pulled out a win.
“We finished, that was the big thing,” said Ryan, the junior varsity coach last season. “It was totally a team effort.”
Truer words were never spoken, as sophomore guard Cliff Collyer overcame 1-for-6 shooting at the line to finish with 15 points and three rebounds, while sophomore Connor Ploucha came off the bench to score six of his eight points in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Just as important were the two points, three rebounds and four assists provided by reserve guard Bishop Woodall, three fourth-quarter free throws from backup guard Ryan O’Callaghan and a steal and offensive rebound by Brandt Buckholz in the closing seconds.
“It’s going to help us a lot,” Ryan said of winning the opener. “It’s an attitude here. We had a rough year last year, and the only way you’re going to learn how to win is to go out and win.”
Wooster’s Grant Stokes, a 6-foot football star who goes about 250 pounds, used incredible footwork and strength to power his way to 20 points and seven rebounds — “He’s a freight train,” Ryan said — while shooting guard James Preston had 19 points but failed to score in the final quarter.
Point guard Nolan Bricker scored all eight of his points in the final period and finished with four boards and four assists for the Generals, who also got eight points and 11 rebounds from center Cameron Daugherty.
Outplayed inside much of the night, the Colts toughened down the stretch and made a number of key plays in a game that was tied at 51, 53, 55, 57, 59 and 61 before Ploucha gave the Colts the lead for good by hitting two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1:49 left.
With Wooster appearing uncertain what it wanted to do offensively, Buckholz got a steal with 1:13 to go, then tracked down an offensive rebound when Podolak misfired on a quick 3-point attempt.
Ploucha converted two free throws with 41.5 seconds left, with Podolak keeping the Colts two possessions ahead by making four straight from the stripe in the final 19.5 seconds.
“During practice, I had a rough week at the line,” Podolak said. “I stayed after and worked on it, and when it came time, I knocked them down.”
Bricker scored on a drive to make it 70-67, but the Generals were out of timeouts and Buckwald wisely did not inbound the ball, allowing the clock to run out.
“We started out rough,” Podolak said. “We were really nervous, but once we got over that, we turned it around.”