But with two PAC Stars games left — on the road versus winless Black River and at home against Brookside — the Falcons control their own destiny.
However, first-year coach Brett Bartlett wasn’t ready to claim the crown just yet.
“We still have two conference games left, so there’s a lot of basketball to be played yet,” said Bartlett, the former Keystone and Ashland University standout. “(The biggest reason for the success) is our mindset and our effort every day in practice. We’re taking things one day at a time. We’re coming into the gym every day ready to work and improve on what you did the day before, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Falcons (11-8, 9-5 PAC) used a deliberate, slow-down offensive style for most of the game, and it seemed to throw Wellington (7-13, 7-7) for a loop. But the Dukes were able to hang around for awhile, only trailing 23-19 with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
But Firelands kept Wellington off the scoreboard for the next eight minutes, putting together a 12-0 run to increase its lead to 35-19.
“Offensively in the first half, we had some careless turnovers,” Bartlett said. “We were playing pretty weak with the ball. They were pressuring us. We did a better job of that in the second half. We were able to score some baskets and continued our good defense there the last two quarters.”
It was fitting that a pair of seniors led the way for Firelands on Senior Night — forward Joe Hyster, who accounted for four points during the game-changing run, and guard Nick Bauer each finished with 13 points to lead the Falcons. Bauer scored seven points during their
21-point fourth quarter that matched their entire scoring output in the first half.
“We only won four or five games in the conference last year, and none of the papers at the beginning (of the season) thought that we would have a chance at the title this season,” said Hyster, who added six rebounds and shot 5-of-8 from the floor. “Most everyone thought that we’d be a year away from seriously contending, and we wanted to prove everyone wrong.
“Our coach told us at the beginning of the year that the only people who believed in us are the ones in the locker room. We took that to heart. We truly believed that we could do this, and it feels good.”
Wellington tried everything to change the momentum, but whatever it tried — full-court press, half-court press or zone defense — Firelands was able to stay one step ahead.
Despite a 17-point fourth quarter by Dave Clark, which was just two points shy of the Dukes’ output through three quarters and led to a game-high 21 points for the senior guard, Wellington could get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We could never establish the tempo we wanted,” Wellington coach Dan Gundert said. “They played a lot harder than us tonight. They wanted it more. That was the result right there. They beat us to every loose ball. Every key rebound was theirs. We were able to pick up the tempo late in the fourth quarter, but by then, it was too little, too late.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firelands 54, Wellington 40
WELLINGTON (40): Dave Clark 6-6-21, Dylan Weidrick 4-2-10, Tim Young 2-0-4, Jacob Grimmett 1-0-3, Dylan Kidd 0-1-1, Joey Holliday 0-1-1, Tony Walker 0-0-0, Daryn Broadwater 0-0-0. Totals 13-10-40.
FIRELANDS (54): Joe Hyster 5-3-13, Nick Bauer 3-6-13, Logan Sittinger 4-1-9, Corey Smith 3-0-6, Cole Sklarek 0-4-4, Brett Helton 3-0-6, Jimmy Willbond 1-0-3, Trevor Davis 0-0-0, Kevin Rollins 0-0-0, Dakotah Klingshirn 0-0-0. Totals 19-14-54.
Wellington 8 7 4 21 — 40
Firelands 8 13 12 21 — 54
Three-point goals: Wellington 4-18 (Clark 3, Grimmett), Firelands 2-6 (Bauer, Willbond); Field goals: Wellington 13-43 (30 percent), Firelands 19-38 (50 percent); Free throws: Wellington 10-17 (59 percent), Firelands 14-26 (54 percent); Rebounds: Wellington 31 (Weidrick 12, Clark 9), Firelands 29 (Hyster 6, Sittinger 6); Turnovers: Wellington 22, Firelands 17.
Junior varsity: Firelands, 45-21