By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
DORA — The Elida Tigers narrowly escaped Coyote Country with a victory Saturday night, but the win gave them their first district championship in more than a decade.
In a game that was close and physical all the way, it literally came down to the last second before Elida (24-4) took a 49-46 victory over the Dora Coyotes (20-6) in the District 3-1A tournament championship.
“We haven’t been playing well lately,” Elida junior Wesley Gilmore said. “We came out tonight, finally, and just stepped up our game and got it done.”
Gilmore, who led all scorers with 25 points, said he had expected the battle that the Coyotes dished out all night long.
“It was a real physical day,” Gilmore said. “They have Ryan Craig at post and he’s real tough.”
With three treys, Gilmore sparked Elida to a 24-16 advantage with a minute left to play in the half but it was short-lived and the largest advantage either team would get all night.
Elida’s lone senior Caleb Widener said he thought defense and blocking out on the boards was the difference in the game.
“We were expecting a physical game,” Widener said. “It’s great, this is the first time ever for us to win district.”
After a Dora bucket, Coyote Hector Fierro stole the ball in the front court as Elida was holding on for the last shot. Fierro drove the length of the court to cut the Tigers’ lead to 24-20 at the half.
The two teams traded leads all the way through the second half, with Dora leading 46-44 at the two-minute mark of the fourth. Gilmore knocked down the last of five treys on the night to give Elida a 47-46 lead with 1:15 left, and Dora was forced to foul.
Gilmore hit two free throws with 35 seconds left to put Elida up by three but Trenton Chenault missed a free throw with six seconds left to give Dora one more chance.
The Coyotes got the 3-pointer set up but Gilmore was able to slap it away. An in-bounds play with less than a second didn’t give Dora a chance.
“It all came down to who had the lead inside a minute,” Dora coach Ty Thatcher said. “Unfortunately, they did and we were forced to foul.
Elida coach Darrell Chenault said the tight game didn’t surprise him, adding that his team stepped up a little more on defense than in previous match-ups with Dora.
“We both just match up really well against each other,” Chenault said. “Together we have 10 phenomenal athletes out there all the time. They care about us and we care about them, it’s just unfortunate that one has to lose.”
Both teams had already earned a Class 1A state tournament berth by reaching the championship. It is Dora’s first trip to state since 2003, when the Coyotes won the title.
“I just told them to keep their heads up and try to take something away from this that they can learn from,” Thatcher said. “They took it pretty hard.”
Dora was paced by Casey O’Connor with 12 points, Hector Fierro with 11 and Kyler Smith with 9.
Elida’s Tom Sullivan joined Gilmore in double figures with 10.