BUCYRUS - Columbian's final game this season was like so many that came before it.
The Tornadoes fell behind in their sectional semifinal game against Clear Fork, trailing by as many as 15. Columbian stormed back, getting within five points, 56-51, with about four minutes left.
But Clear Fork always had an answer, and it advanced to Friday's final with Willard on the strength of a 68-56 win.
"You dig yourself a hole like that ... you spend so much energy to get it close, and you start to get excited and it really takes a lot of discipline and focus to push it through, and it's hard to do," said TC coach Bill Beaston, whose team ended its season at 7-16. "I credit these kids ... they just willed it back to (five), unfortunately we couldn't get any closer."
Clear Fork got an unexpected boost from Jordan Ridenour, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, who scored 18 points for the Colts (13-10). While Ridenour is a starter for Clear Fork, he's not statistically one of its biggest threats.
"I don't know," said Colts' coach Steven Bechtel, when asked what got into Ridenour. "He just stepped up. Keith [Corbin] was struggling a little bit there in the first half with foul trouble, but Jordan stepped up, hit a few shots, got us going there a little bit."
Beaston said he was surprised by Ridenour, who hit three 3-pointers in the first half.
"I scouted him twice, saw four different game films, and I didn't see that either," Beaston said. "Credit to him, he was aggressive with the ball, got to the basket, finished."
The same could be said for Derek Dryfuse, Columbian's sophomore post, who was gobbling up rebounds and scoring all first half. Sixteen of Dryfuse's 21 points came in the first two quarters. Columbian trailed 34-26 at the half.
"We made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to him," Beaston said of Dryfuse, who led TC with nine rebounds. "We thought we could do some things with their sets and his size."
Bechtel said Dryfuse gave the Colts problems.
"He does a great job with his body; he seals us off," Bechtel said. "They did a great job getting the ball to him, and their game plan, obviously, was gonna be going inside on us."
In the second half, Clear Fork was able to neutralize Dryfuse, and TC's scoring was left to Josh Flint, who had 11 of his 13 points after the break, and Connor Conley, who had eight points over the third and fourth quarters.
Clear Fork opened the third quarter on a 10-3 run. When Corbin connected on a layup, the Colts went up 44-29 with 4:38 left in the third.
But Columbian, who rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation to beat Sandusky a week and a half ago, started chipping away at the deficit. It scored the next five points, making it 44-34 on a three-point play by Conley with 3:50 left. Conley's 3 from the left wing just before the third quarter buzzer made it 48-41.
Columbian continued to hang around in the final quarter. A 3 by Flint cut the Clear Fork lead to seven, and a pair of free throws by the junior made it 56-51 with 3:44 left.
But Clear Fork responded. Ridge Winard made four unanswered free throws, and pushed the Colts' lead back up to nine. Winard finished with a team-high 20 points, and was 7 of 7 from the foul line as Clear Fork pulled away for good.
"He let it come to him in the second half, and when he is at the line, I feel pretty good," Bechtel said.
TC senior point guard Bryce Lonsway finished his high school career with a nine-point effort.
"(Clear Fork) did a good job of keeping him funneled," Beaston said. "He didn't get as many pull-up looks as he normally does, and that was a credit to their defense. But I thought Bryce showed good patience. He didn't force the issue, he took what the defense gave him and did a good job creating for others. That's what a point guard and a senior leader needs to do."