LAGRANGE — For the first time since a season-opening win against Wooster, Cloverleaf’s boys basketball team got significant bang for its buck.
Led by seniors Robby Buckwald and Brandt Buckholz, the Colts did everything right when it mattered Wednesday and walked away with a 56-44 non-league victory over Keystone.
Cloverleaf (2-8), which snapped an eight-game losing streak, outscored the Wildcats (2-6) 21-4 in the fourth quarter, when it did not commit a turnover, made 9-of-12 free throws and held Keystone without a field goal.
“We were on a little losing streak, but hopefully this win will get us back on our feet and give us momentum for Friday against Copley,” said Buckwald, who scored eight of his game-high 22 points in the fourth. “Hopefully we can gain more confidence and shoot the ball the way we did tonight.”
For the better part of three quarters, offensively challenged Keystone was on the verge of pulling away, yet couldn’t because of horrendous free throw shooting. The Wildcats were 4-of-15 in the fourth quarter — they missed 13 of their last 17 and made just 12-of-32 overall — to go with six bricked field goals and five turnovers.
It opened the door for the Colts, who knocked it down with authority. Cloverleaf scored 14 of the game’s final 16 points and never trailed once Buckwald hit a contested pick-and-pop 3-pointer off a dish from Buckholz (season-high 8 points), who added four points and a steal in the fourth.
A steal-and-score by Cliff Collyer (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) put the Colts up 47-42 before Buckwald and Adam Podolak went on a 4-0 mini-spurt at the free throw line to seal the deal.
“It feels amazing,” Buckholz said. “This game we pulled together as a team. We just had to man up and fight through our tiredness and win the game.”
As inept as Keystone was in the fourth quarter, it was equally as efficient over the first 24 minutes.
Using a patient, set-heavy offense designed to get mid-range looks or inside buckets for center Adam Hopkins (9 points), the Wildcats went on a nine-point swing when Collyer and teammate Brandon Johnson (7 points, 3 assists) were on the bench to end the half up 26-22.
Unfortunately for them, the free throw struggles began to rear their ugly head. Keystone missed five straight from the line while holding a lead of three or more points, and then assaulted the rim some more when it still had a chance.
Senior power forward Chase Robinson and junior backup guard Collin Fitzgerald each had 10 points and Adam and C.J. Conrad combined for seven assists, but first-year coach Jeff Holzhauer was highly unsatisfied with his team’s fourth-quarter leadership — not to mention putting a dent in its already sub-.500 season percentage at the line.
“We have a lot of issues we have to figure out,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence going into the game and I had a lot of confidence in the second quarter, but some of the things we stand by — playing defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball, playing together — just didn’t happen (in the fourth quarter).”
The game’s contract was signed last season in response to the Ohio High School Athletic Association extending the 2012-13 regular season to 22 games. The Colts’ other new pickup is a home game against Brooklyn on Feb. 12.
• Cloverleaf lost the junior varsity game 42-24. Braedon Hanson had eight points for the Colts, who were outscored 23-7 in the second half, while Jacob Miller had 12 for Keystone.