By DAVE HANNEMAN
BOWLING GREEN — It will take just one bus for Leipsic to get its coaches, players and cheerleaders to the state tournament next week.
But if Vikings’ coach Scott Maag had his way, he’d charter a whole fleet.
“This is not just me,” Maag said on Friday after Leipsic beat Ottawa Hills 63-54 in the Division IV regional final at Bowling Green State University.
“This is about those 13 young men on our team, it’s about coach (Chris) Kuhlman and coach (Tyler) Closson and coach (Sam Boehnlein), and it’s about all those kids over there,” he added, motioning to large group, many of them recent Leipsic graduates, still celebrating the school’s first trip to state in 88 years.
“Those guys over there bought into this system, they built this program and we’re taking them down to Columbus with us.”
Facing a towering Ottawa Hills team, Leipsic scrapped and clawed on the inside and lit it up from the outside to win the school’s first-ever regional championship. The Vikings (24-4) will face Lancaster Fairfield Christian (25-2) Friday at 2 p.m. in the Division IV state semifinals at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Troy Christian (26-2) and Cleveland Villa-St. Joseph (23-4) complete the Division IV bracket for next week’s state tournament.
Devin Mangas scored 23 points, Mitch Kuhlman tossed in 14 and Austin Brown had 10 as Leipsic built as much as a 13-point, 39-26 lead early in the third quarter.
Ottawa Hills rallied behind the hot hand of Geoff Beans and twice trimmed the deficit to three, first at 51-48 on one of two fourth-quarter 3-pointers by the 6-foot-6 junior, then at 57-54 when Beans converted all three free throws after being fouled on another long shot.
“With the style they (Leipsic) plays, we knew if they missed some shots we could get right back in it,” said Ottawa Hills coach John Lindsay.
“We told our kids even if we get down 10, 12 points, we would have an opportunity to make a run.”
Mangas then stepped up big for the Vikings, driving inside to draw the defense to him and feeding Austin Brown for an easy ‘2’, then scoring on a pull-up jumper from the wing and hitting two clutch free throws with 24.8 seconds to play.
Brown’s two free throws made it 59-54 with 17.5 seconds left, and Mangas converted two more nine seconds later. The final play of the game typified Leipsic’s aggressive, get-after-it style as Mangas stole a pass and went in for lay-up for the final score.
Leipsic forced Ottawa Hills into 19 turnovers and had a 24-0 advantage in fast-break transition points. A deep team, the Vikings also outscored Ottawa Hills 17-0 off the bench.
A huge portion of that was Kuhlman, who came off the bench and scored all 14 of his points during a sizzling second quarter. The 6-1 junior hit 4 of 5 3-pointers in the period.
“When you’re a shooter, you can feel it when everything is going to go in, and this was one of those nights,” Kuhlman said.
“That’s the way Zach is. He’s a streaky shooter and when he gets it going it’s lights out,” Maag said.
Just 1 of 13 from 3-point range in Tuesday’s semifinal win over Edgerton, Leipsic connected on 9 of 17 threes Friday. Derek Steffan made 2 of 4 3-pointers and Mangas 3 of 5, including a 50-footer from just across the midcourt stripe at the first-quarter buzzer.
“I called it when there was 2.2 seconds left (in the quarter),” Mangas said.
“I said I wanted the ball and I just lofted it up there. I think the good Lord helped me with that one.”
Some hot-handed 3-point shooting may have highlighted the offense. But Maag felt the game was won inside in the trenches where Leipsic, with no player taller than 6-4, had to handle Ottawa Hills front line of Beans, 6-8 junior R.J. Coil and Lucas Janowicz, a solidly-built 6-4 senior.
“We did it, and we did it because of Austin (Brown), Caleb (Barerra), Mitch (Kuhlman) and Derek Steffan,” Maag said.
“We rotated four guys in there and I see as lot of guys with blood all over their jerseys because it was a battle, it was a war.
“Mitch didn’t score many points (1), but he played so big. He didn’t get many rebounds (2), but neither did the guy he was guarding. That was crucial.
“Devin had a bunch of rebounds (3). Zach had a bunch of rebounds (3). Aric (Schroeder) had a bunch of rebounds (7). Our guards went and got it (rebounds) and that’s exactly what we talked about. They were able to do that because our bigs controlled their bigs.”
Beans had nine points in the fourth quarter and a team-high 19 for the Green Bears. Coil had 12 points but just six rebounds, while Janowicz, one of just two senior starters for Ottawa Hills (22-5) capped his career with a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double.
While Ottawa Hills will to wait until next year, Leipsic’s veteran team will be writing as new chapter in the school record books.
“This has been a dream of mine since me and my brothers were playing basketball outside,” said Maag, who was an assistant coach on Ottawa-Glandorf’s state championship team in 2004 and runner-up team in 1996.
“My one brother (Randy, 1988) went to state in track. My other brother (Ryan, 1996) went to state in basketball.
“Now these guys are allowing me to go to state as a coach. It’s a phenomenal feeling. I can’t put it into words.”
But Brown, an able spokesman for the 10 seniors on the Leipsic roster, could.
“We were 10 strong all year, 10 strong,” Brown said.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to share this with. Coming into this season, I knew these 10 seniors were going to give me the greatest year of my life.”
Vikings Advance to State Tournament
By DAVE HANNEMAN