WADSWORTH — The first meeting between the Wadsworth and Buckeye boys basketball teams was 61 years in the making.
It lived up to the hype.
In an absolute non-league slugfest that came down to the final seconds Tuesday, center Kyle Prunty came up big to lead the Grizzlies to a thrilling 57-54 non-league victory.
Wadsworth (7-4) nearly blew a five-point lead in the final 59.9 seconds, but Prunty made two free throws with 11.9 seconds left and the Grizzlies survived when a 3-point attempt by the Bucks’ Jeff Miller spun out in the waning moments.
“We all knew coming in they were a very good team,” said Prunty, who scored his team’s final 10 points. “We were not going to back down.”
The battle in the paint turned into a war almost instantly and never lost steam. The 6-foot-6 Prunty led Wadsworth with a season-high 32 points and 10 rebounds with Baldwin Wallace University in attendance, while 6-3 power forward Joel Kipfer added nine points and eight boards.
Buckeye (10-3) countered with 19 points and five rebounds from 6-3 power forward Miller and a breakout performance from 6-5 center Chris Vogt (career-high 19 points, 5 rebounds), who dominated the second half offensively against AAU teammate Prunty.
The quartet combined for 79 of the game’s 111 points and grabbed 28 of its 58 rebounds.
“Playing against Chris is tough because I’ve been playing with him for five or six years now,” said Prunty, who also plays with Buckeye’s Garrett Beck in the summer. “He knows every single move I’ve got. I thought I knew his moves …”
Wadsworth appeared to be in control when Prunty scored to make it 40-29 early in the third quarter. Miller then picked up his fourth foul with 5:34 left in the period, giving the Grizzlies a golden opportunity.
Vogt had other plans, as he scored 13 straight Buckeye points to keep his team in it. Prunty countered with eight straight Wadsworth points to make it 55-50 with 59.9 seconds left.
Instead of fouling to put the Grizzlies in the bonus, the Bucks went for steals and got them. John Tighe (12 points) stripped Tyson Heideman and Miller converted at the other end to bring Buckeye within 55-53, while Beck swiped Barry Fernholz and scored to make it 55-54 with 20 seconds left.
Prunty made two free throws with 11.9 seconds left, and Buckeye crossed mid-court before calling timeout to set up a final play.
Sensing the Bucks were going to find Beck (season-low 4 points on 2-for-8 shooting, 10 rebounds), Miller’s defender left to help. Miller then curled toward the top of the arc, received a pass and let loose a stunningly wide-open 3-pointer that looked true.
Unfortunately for Buckeye, it missed and the clock hit zero as Beck saved the ball from going out of bounds.
“I guess gravity was working against me,” Miller said. “It felt good.”
“I was looking for a trash can because I thought I was going to lose it,” Prunty added. “My stomach turned. I thought that was going to go in.”
Playing in a gym that seats 3,497 — it was less than half full — the Bucks showed zero nerves and came out swinging.
The mismatches were clear from the beginning, as Miller had 13 points in the first 6:22 to put Buckeye up 15-6, only to have Prunty answer with 19 in the second half for Wadsworth.
“They’re proving they can beat us,” Miller said. “We’re proving we’re here to compete. That’s a big difference.”
After watching Miller look like the second coming of Karl Malone, Wadsworth made a key adjustment by putting athletic small forward Austin White on him.
White’s defense, coupled with Fernholz and Patrick Long alternating on Beck, fueled a 34-14 Grizzlies run that put them ahead by double digits.
The second quarter was particularly telling, as Wadsworth won it 23-8 with outstanding defense — Buckeye was 3-for-11 shooting and committed five turnovers — plus six points from Kipfer and all eight of White’s points.
“That was definitely impressive,” Prunty said. “I think we came together as a team.”
Grizzlies coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. harped on his team immediately after beating Revere 48-46 on Friday that the Bucks were going to bring everything they had to the table.
Though the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division leader walked away with its second straight loss, it picked up more area-wide respect.
“It’s tough to play at that (Division I) level for 32 minutes when you’ve got six to seven guys,” Bucks coach Matt Saunders said. “That said, I was really happy with the way we finished. To get a shot to tie against a really good team, you feel satisfied.
“There’s a reason we play Highland. There’s a reason why we play Wadsworth. We want to have some games that really, really push us and challenge us.”
Dan Weinerman had 15 points as Wadsworth’s junior varsity won 42-36. Justin Lowry had 13 points for Buckeye.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.