If the Evergreen Vikings were like a cat, they would have used up three of their lives already.
For the third straight NWOAL game, the Vikes found themselves on the short end of a double figure margin against the Delta Panthers.
However after a halftime, for lack of a better term, “instructional conversation” in the locker room, the Vikings rebounded. They used a 15-0 second half run to overtake the Panthers 58-54, remaining unbeaten in the league at 4-0.
“We didn’t play hard in the first half,” said Evergreen coach Jerry Keifer. “We challenged them at halftime, and they came out and responded. We made plays down the stretch to pull us through.”
For the first 18 minutes it was Delta making the plays.
Seth Burres’ two baskets, one on a putback, along with a drive from Gabe Freeman, Bowen Green’s hook and then his dump off to Elliot Schneider on a give and go put Delta up 10-2 midway through the first quarter.
Green’s subsequent triple and yet another hoop off the offensive glass kept the lead at eight, 17-9, after eight minutes.
Robby Arrendondo’s wide open baseline jumper got the lead to double figures 30 seconds into the second quarter before Bryce Hudik and Josh Dowling hit from in the key to get Evergreen back within six.
Schneider scored on a goaltending call on the Vikings’ Mason Loeffler, Green scored inside again and when Brady Wymer drove for a hoop at the 1:37 mark, Delta was again up double figures at 27-17.
However, the Vikings began to chip away from the foul line as Nate Brighton knocked down a pair, then after a foul on Brandon Burkhart trying to intimidate Loeffler 30 feet away from the ball, two more free throws with 10 seconds left in the half got the Vikings within 30-23 at the break.
The Panthers shot 50 percent in the first 16 minutes compared to Evergreen’s 33 and outrebounded the Vikings 18-9 while committing just four turnovers.
At the start of the second half Delta picked right back up as Green hit a hook shot, Freeman scored on a fast break and Schnieder scored on the same back cut he did twice in the first half around a basket from Brighton to make it 36-25 with six minutes left in the third.
Enter the Vikings’ Chandler Lumbrezer.
In a 40 second span, the junior lefty brought his team and the silent Viking crowd back in the game with a drive, a triple from the left side and another score off a turnover to get Evergreen back within 36-32.
After Wymer split a pair from the line, Loeffler buried a foul line jumper and Dowling scored on a circus three-point play on a pass from Hudik, capping a 12-1 run to tie the game with three minutes left in the quarter.
Delta answered right back as Green, Freeman and Arrendondo got inside during an 8-0 run to give the Panthers a 45-37 advantage with 1:07 left in the quarter.
That was the last Panther point for the next eight minutes as the Viking defense that got more active after halftime, created havoc with the Panther offense.
Dowling found Hudik for a score to end the third and all that did was spark a 15-0 Evergreen run.
John Machacek came off the bench to drill a three-ball 25 seconds into the fourth and his hustle play off his own miss led to another Dowling hoop inside that sliced the Panther lead to 45-44.
“That was the turning point in the game,” explained Keifer. “He hit the three, then after he missed the next one and then ran (the ball) down and all of a sudden the momentum went our way after we scored off that.”
Lumbrezer then followed with a steal and breakaway basket to give Evergreen the lead for good with 5:15 left, then followed with a right to left curl to the rim for a score.
Dowling knocked down a pair from the line and then scored on a cut to the rim from Loeffler to make it 52-45 with 1:57 left.
“Josh Dowling was really strong for us tonight,” stated Keifer. “Chandler made a nice quick 7-0 run to get us going.”
Delta had one more rally as Wymer scored, and after the Vikings had hit 13 of their first 15 from the line, Dowling and Hudik missed, leaving the door open.
Green hit 3 of 4 to get Delta within 53-50, but Dowling countered with 2 of 2 on the bonus and Loeffler split a pair to get the lead back to six.
Green scored his 18th point of the night with 23 seconds left and after hitting 9 of his first 10, Dowling missed twice and the Panthers took advantage as Wymer scored on a drive with nine ticks left to chop the Viking lead to 56-54.
However, after the Vikings allowed the clock to run a few seconds before inbounding, the Panthers caught up to Loeffler and fouled with 3.3 left and the sophomore put the game away by hitting both for the final margin.
The Vikings outrebounded Delta 17-13 in the second half and forced nine second half turnovers while committing just one.
Evergreen was 18 for 25 from the line while Delta was just 7 for 17.
Dowling led all scorers with 19 points. Lumbrezer added 13.
Schneider added 11 to Green’s 18.
Delta (6-10) would win 77-74 in double overtime at North Central Saturday night.
Evergreen (9-8) is in a first place tie with Wauseon on top of the NWOAL, while the Panthers fell to 2-2.
Reach Joe Blystone at email@example.com