The Western Reserve boys basketball team has averaged 17 wins per season and won four Firelands Conference championships over the past eight years by doing the little things at the defensive end of the floor.
In Thursday's matchup with Monroeville that featured the unanimous top two teams in the FC entering the season, that proved true again as a key steal and layup by Heath Oates with 3:48 left that allowed the Roughriders (6-0, 4-0 FC) to preserve a 60-57 win at home.
"Kids don't understand how big defensive plays like that can be for a team," Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. "I think it was the play of the game. He gets in the passing lane with a big steal to push the lead to three points."
The Eagles (3-3, 2-2 FC) trailed 52-44 after Nate Schmitt hit his fourth 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. A 9-0 run, however, sparked by Skylar Old allowed Monroeville to surge ahead 53-52 with 4:28 left.
Old scored three straight baskets to cap the run after Tyler Blair started it with a 3-pointer.
The 'Riders came back with a big bucket down low by Jake Fannin and moments later Oates made the steal and basket that put Western up 56-53.
Blair answered with his third 3-pointer of the game to tie it with 3:03 left but Nolan Todd came back with a driving basket to go up 58-56 and Western did not trail again. Ryan Dragon split a pair of free throws for Monroeville with 1:59 left, but Oates was fouled and sank both free throws for a 60-57 lead with 58.8 seconds left.
From there, it was a frantic finish for the Eagles the Riders couldn't put the game away at the free throw line. That allowed guards Ryan Stower and Old each to take 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds, but they did everything but go down and rim out that allowed Western to hang on.
For the rest of this story, read Friday's Sandusky Register or Norwalk Reflector.