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Cameron mounts comeback to win OVAC championship over Trinity Christian

CADIZ, Ohio – The Cameron Dragons were slow out of the gate, but they didn’t stumble down the home stretch.

After falling behind 23-7 at one point in the opening quarter, the Dragons forged a path back into Saturday’s OVAC Class 1A championship against the Trinity Christian Warriors, tying the game 28-28 at halftime and coming up with clutch plays down the stretch to collect the conference gold in a 56-49 victory.

The championship was Cameron’s second in program history, and their second in three years, having made four straight trips to the title game.

“To have the second one in school history, it does mean a lot,” Cameron head coach Tom Hart said. “But it was a goal of this team and this group. They work well together, they’re so easy to coach, they work so hard, they don’t complain in practice, I’m just so proud of this group.”

Cameron was led by Lance Hartley, who powered the Dragons through Saturday with 19 points and 11 rebounds, starting the game 7-7 from the floor, and Colson Wichterman, who hit the biggest shot of the game with one minute left in the fourth quarter.

Wichterman nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing to put Cameron ahead by five, 50-45, and after the Dragons got a stop on defense, Trinity was forced into intentionally fouling. Cameron was in no mood to let their opponents back into the game, going 6-6 in their trips to the line to salt away the win.

“That’s Colson Wichterman,” Hart said. “Everybody sees him on the football field, he’s a big-time player on the football field, and he’s a big-time player on the basketball court as well. He knocked down that 3, he’s confident, he’s a great athlete, and he’s a good leader for us on the floor and I had all the confidence in the world for him to knock down that shot.”

The close ending of Saturday flew in the face of how the game looked to be progressing in the early goings, with Trinity getting to the rim at will against Cameron’s defense, and the Dragons struggling to control the ball on offense.

Trinity broke out to an 8-0 lead before Hartley finally put Cameron on the board with 5:00 to go in the first quarter, but the Warrior offense was still scoring mostly unabated, collecting nearly half of their eventual point total in the first quarter alone.

“We had to get a couple timeouts, we had to settle our guys down and refocus a little bit,” Hart said. “Trinity came out and shot the ball very well, they are very well-coached, they’ve got a nice ball team. We were just trying to get our guys to settle down a little bit, get the focus back on our game plan. We got a couple turnovers, got a couple big baskets, big 3’s, got things back to single digits. After we got back to single digits, we kind of got back into our rhythm.”

Carter Hartsock scored six in the first quarter, while Lucas Kniska and Auston Porta each scored five for Trinity in the first.

While Cameron’s Cuyler McCauley knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer, Cameron still trailed 23-10 heading into the second.

Things started changing fast for Saturday’s championship game, starting with a whistle seconds into the period.

“We were in the driver’s seat, clearly, in the first quarter and halfway through the second,” Trinity head coach Codey Horton said. “Lucas Kniska got a second foul five seconds into the second quarter, we sat him out and lost all of our mojo, only scored seven points in the second quarter, it was a tied ball game and things had shifted. A lot of selfishness, a lot of impatient ball movement and we just got backed into a corner and it felt like we were just trying to get out of it.”

As for Cameron, it was a shift in performance on defense, spurred by a full-court press they deployed through most of the second quarter, which helped them claw back into it.

“We just told them we need to pick it up on defense,” Hart said. “We just seemed a little lax on defense, that’s something we usually pride ourselves on. We picked the pace up on defense, started sitting down, playing better defense, limiting to one shot, we forced turnovers and got baskets out of it. That kind of got the momentum going.”

The Dragons got within single digits, 24-14, and kept on going. A 10-0 run concluded the second quarter, as Mason Scott hit a corner three with 30 seconds left to send the teams into the locker rooms tied at 28.

The Warriors shook off their shellshock in the third, and the two teams swapped leads throughout the quarter, with four lead changes. Cameron led by two, 39-37 going into the fourth– the same margin that the Dragons led by when Wichterman hit his game-altering 3 late.

“It says a lot about our kids,” Hart said of the game. “We had a tough game against a good Madonna team [in the semis], then we went the next day, less than 24 hours we were driving three hours to Charleston, played a very good Doddridge County team, went into overtime. Then we had two days to get prepared for Trinity, a very good ball team. These guys, they were focused. They were a little out-of-sorts at the beginning but they picked it up and we were successful today.”

Wichterman finished with 16 points. Scott finished with 10 and five rebounds. For Trinity, Chayce Adams led the team with 14 while Hartsock scored 12 with six rebounds. Hartley was awarded game MVP.

By NICK HENTHORN/The Intelligencer

Cameron 56, Trinity 49
TRINITY (49) – Lohmann 1 2-2 4; Porta 2 1-2 6; Kniska 3 1-3 7; Hopkins 2 0-0 6; Adams 7 0-0 14; Hartsock 5 2-2 12; Totals 20 6-9 49.
CAMERON (56) – Estel 0 0-0 0; McCauley 2 4-4 9; Wichterman 7 1-2 16; Winters 0 2-2 2; Scott 3 2-2 10; Hartley 9 1-3 19; Magers 0 0-0 0; Totals 21 10-13 56.
Three-point goals: Trinity 3 (Hopkins 2, Porta). Cameron 4 (Scott 2, McCauley, Wichterman).