Wildcats Lose Heartbreaker without Star Player to Conclude Regular Season Play


Marty Briner

Casen Lawrence played the game of the life on Wednesday, scoring 16 points including 12 from beyond the arc.

The boys basketball team’s thrilling comeback was thwarted on Wednesday night after a series of lost breaks and uncharacteristic play. The final score of the Wildcats’ final regular season game was 50-45.

This game was full of storylines, and there are a host of reasons the Wildcats didn’t come out on top. The most glaring and obvious reason was made clear at player intros: Brennan Orf was not only not starting, but he wasn’t even dressed. He wore sweatpants, a Westminster basketball hoodie, and Crocs. The senior forward has been suffering from hip pain and bruising in the past weeks simply due to wear and tear from the long season. 

Brennan Orf not playing was a dream scenario for a team that usually has nightmares about the future Conference Player of the Year. In two games this season against the Rams, Orf has scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. He requires two or three players to stop him when he gets the ball in the paint, opening up Westminster’s shooters from behind the arc.

From the start of the game, it was evident that Westminster was not going to get any easy shots without the inside threat of Orf for MICDS to worry about.

Westminster actually came out strong. They scored three of the games first four baskets, leading 6-2 early in the period. However, they were held scoreless for an extended period and trailed 15-6 after one quarter of play. During this period, Nick Roper, man of many nicknames, three straight shots from behind the arc and back cut Matt George for a disgusting slam. 

It honestly wouldn’t even be true to say at this point that the Rams were playing markedly better than the Wildcats. They were just hot. They couldn’t have missed more than maybe two shots from deep in the entire half. 

Nevertheless, Westminster’s morale was low. They were playing without their best player, and it can be hard for the other guys when the training wheels get ripped off and you’re forced to take on one of the best teams in the area. The Wildcats have been playing with the security blanket of Brennan Orf for three years now, and that was evident during the first half on Wednesday night. Getting used to playing without Orf was going to take a little time. 

However, playing without the team’s leading scorer gave other players a chance to take over. The obvious star of the night was Casen Lawrence. The sophomore guard has spent the year as mostly a shooter, taking almost three times as many three point field goals as two pointers. He’s capable of creating his own shots outside, and he’s shown that before. Tonight, he showcased his masterful ability to handle the ball and finish layups or pass to teammates all while standing at well under six feet tall.

Lawrence used an assortment of crossovers, hesitations, and fakes on his way to making some of the most impressive plays of the night. He was also pulling the trigger from deep as well. He would go on to hit big shots to keep the Wildcats in it, but not during the second quarter.

The Wildcats did not play well in the second quarter. The offense could not get anything going, and fill-in starter Austin Vick picked up his third foul a moment before halftime. An offensive rebound-putback-and-one from fluffy-haired junior guard Jack Pronger made everyone in blue want to throw up and reminded us all why we don’t like coming to Codasco.

At halftime, there was but maybe one small ray of light for the Wildcats, and that was the fact that the Rams’ third leading scorer Brandon Mitchell-Day also had three fouls. It was 29-14, and the Wildcats were just about lifeless. 

As we walked out of the stuffy MICDS gym to get a breath of fresh air and cool off before filming our halftime update, we were dejected. It had been a brutal, choppy, ugly half of basketball. We figured the only way to win was for the shots to start falling, and they needed to start fast. 

To open the half, the two teams traded baskets for the first three or four possessions each. Nobody could get an edge, but EJ Williams had a nice off-balance finish, and Austin Vick displayed some nice post moves to score. Vick had an impossible job on Wednesday night; he was supposed to fill Brennan Orf’s shoes, something that no player on either team could hope to do. He subbed out for Bennie Anderson and Sam Vestal, but played most of the second half in foul trouble and did a pretty good job of holding his own against guys who were even taller than him.

Marty Briner
Austin Vick played well in his starting role filling in for the injured Brennan Orf.

However, the Wildcats didn’t box out well from the start until the comeback was on. The Rams got boards on free throws and fought for second chance points on missed field goals. 

After the taller guy in sport goggles picked up his fourth foul early in the third, it was the smaller guy in sport goggles’ turn to shine. His jumper miraculously found the bottom of the net twice in the period.

Towards the end of the quarter, the Wildcats got a couple stops on defense and scored twice. The margin was still at a seemingly impossible 11 points. The spark came at the buzzer. 

Lane Davis has been the first or second guy off the bench all year long. He struggled to hit shots in the beginning of the year, and he struggled on Wednesday night, too, but as time ran down on the third quarter, he hucked a prayer in traffic from behind half court. As the ball found the bottom of the net and the buzzer filled the gym, the Westminster crowd responded in the only was that could possibly be considered adequate: hysterics. 

Finally, the Wildcats had life. After struggling to find anything to cheer about the first three quarters, the Blue Crew had come to life. So had the Wildcats. It was a quiet comeback, but in one quarter, Westminster had trimmed the deficit in half, and they had one quarter and all the momentum to go out and win this thing. It was 39-31.

They came out for the fourth quarter inspired. However, it was clear that the Wildcats weren’t going to simply be able to go on a run and tie this thing; they were going to have to grind for it. 

One of the plays of the night I mentioned from Casen Lawrence came in this stretch. He found his way into the lane drew attention from across the paint, then dished to Sam Vestal who was fouled as he made the layup. He would miss the free throw (more on that later.)

The teams traded baskets, then Kobi Williams hit a three to cut the lead to just five points. Nobody in the gym thought it was ever going to be this close, but both teams were milking long possessions, and time was ticking fast. The Wildcats had three opportunities to get within two or three with the score at 42-37 before finally scoring to make it 42-39. 

Of course, the difference might’ve been flipped if Westminster could hit a free throw. Missed free throws plagued the Wildcats from the very beginning of the game. They would finish five-for-13 from the line, an absolutely dismal number and way more than enough to account for the deficit of the final score. Missing free throws is also nowhere in the recipe for success in the postseason. 

You have to make free throws. It’s that simple. Making free throws allows teams to stay in games, and missed free throws hurt confidence and morale. That was evident tonight. Although Westminster shot just 13 free throws, they missed the front ends of multiple and ones that would’ve given them a chance to shoot more. This was the glaring mistake that cost the Wildcats the game tonight. 

Anyways, the score was 42-39. The Wildcats came down the floor with possession and freshman Kobi Williams took the ball out at the top of the key. He drove down the right side of the baseline and finished off-balance and underhand. The ball kissed off the glass and found the basket. The referee blew the whistle for the obvious call: foul, and-one. Nope. Travel.

This was a marvelous call. In my book, the Wildcats were within one. I’m not sure how or what or why. I don’t have the words. It went from a one-point game to the other end where a tall Ram went over a Westminster rebounder and put the ball back up in one swift motion, prompting the referees to deliver a foul call on Westminster. Instead of 42-41, the rightful score, it was now 45-39 with fewer than 90 seconds to play. This one was just about out of hand. 

In this final stretch, Westminster went one-for-three from the line including another missed front end of a one-and-one. On the other end, the Wildcats were forced to foul and MICDS didn’t miss. Down eight, Casen Lawrence hit his final three of the night, a deep one, and called a quick time out. It was too little, too late. The Wildcats scored as time expired to lose 50-45.

Kobi Williams made a handful of big plays to keep the Wildcats in the game on Wednesday night.

With the loss, the Wildcats now hold the co-Conference Championship title with their opponents from Wednesday night. There are all sorts of sayings about ties, and almost all of them work in this scenario. However, let’s keep our eyes on the bigger prize. A Metro Conference title is gonna look pretty measly if the Wildcats are still playing in three weeks. 

Also, back to tonight’s game. MICDS was struggling to miss. They shot almost sixty percent from three point range, and Nick Roper scored 18 points while missing only one field goal the entire night. 

The Wildcats are 22-4. They lost four games in the regular seasons. Some interesting statistics for you: both Westminster basketball teams last lost on the same night, January 7. Since then until tonight, the two teams had combined to win thirty straight games. No wonder losing this game stings so much; we’ve gotten pretty used to the feeling of winning. Also, both basketball teams have four losses. For both teams, two of those losses came to the same team. Both teams’ regular seasons were the best in recent memory, including the boys’ 2014-15 District Championship season with Aaron Cook and the girls’ best since the 2011-12 season that ended in a trip to the final four. 

Tonight’s game was mostly meaningless, and was probably more formative than anything. Austin Vick and Casen Lawrence were forced into the spotlight and performed well. The team also played with heart, led by Lane Davis sparking a comeback. It didn’t affect our standing in the District, and all rankings and records are officially meaningless come playoff time. 

You have to respect what the Wildcats did this game. They came back from an absolutely dismal half of basketball and played admirably without their star player. Maybe it was good to lose one before the playoffs just to remind ourselves how much it sucks to lose. We’d won 14 straight, after all. 

From tonight, we now know that Casen Lawrence is capable of taking over games, and we don’t have to go back to MICDS till next winter; it’s hard to complain about those two things.

It’s also hard to complain about where the Wildcats go from here. They have a bye on Saturday, and they’ll be back in action on Tuesday evening at home against either Rockwood Summit or Borgia. That’s living.