By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
TEXICO — Not only was Elida up against history Saturday night in the EPAC boys tournament championship, but the Tigers as well had to contend with a Texico team determined to control tempo on its home court.
The idea was to keep the Elida sharpshooters from getting too many opportunities. But neither the Wolverines or the past could catch up to the Tigers on this night as Elida won its first EPAC title in school history by beating Texico 58-50.
“First ever. Us and House have never won one,” said Elida coach Darrell Chenault after the game. “The kids were just really confident. They believed in themselves.”
“We’ve just kind of been doing good the whole season,” said Caleb Widner, Elida’s lone senior. “We just had to be ready for it tonight.”
At the Texico Sports Arena, Elida (14-2) grabbed the lead midway through the second quarter.
But not before Texico (11-3) pulled out to its biggest advantage of the night. An old-fashioned three-point play by Daniel Schueler, followed by a single free throw by Schueler a minute later, put the Wolverines on top 18-15.
That’s when Elida scored the game’s next seven points to pull out in front. But the Tigers weren’t able to stretch the margin much until the final period.
Even down 39-36 at the start of the fourth quarter, Texico still took its time trying to find a good shot — and to keep Elida’s opportunities to a minimum.
“That was our whole key. They’re a three-point shooting team. We had to do a good job defending the three and I felt like we did it for about two-and-a-half quarters,” Texico coach Richard Luscombe said. “Then we just got in the position where they hit a couple and we panicked.”
Wesley Gilmore, two minutes into the fourth, sliced into the paint and hit a basket to put Elida up 41-36. After Texico was whistled for an offensive foul, Ever Varela bombed in a baseline trey to put his team up by eight points. Widner extended the lead by hitting a field goal and, thanks to a Wolverines’ foul on the play, an ensuing free throw to put the Tigers up 44-36.
Varela led Elida with 19 points.
“I knew, when we hit ten threes against San Jon last night, that they were going to come out and play us man — they were going to shut that three-point deal down. And they did for a good long while,” Chenault said. “But we’re not scared about people slowing us down, because we try to be very disciplined. And, you know, it paid off tonight.”
Schueler led Texico with 16 points and nine rebounds while Courtland Luscombe and Josh Murray added 11 and 10 points respectively for the Wolverines. For Elida, Gilmore contributed with 12 points while Widner and Ryan Best chipped in with nine points each.
“It’s a monster night, a monster night. You know, the girls have been leading the way for us forever,” said Chenault as Elida finished off an EPAC girls-boys championship sweep. “Finally our guys come in here and end up winning one.”