Alex Schneider of Columbus Grove drives to the hole in Tuesday's contest with Antwerp. (DHI Media/Charlie Warnimont)
Alex Schneider of Columbus Grove drives to the hole in Tuesday's contest with Antwerp. (DHI Media/Charlie Warnimont)
BOWLING GREEN - The battle between top ranked Columbus Grove and second ranked Antwerp lived up to its billing Tuesday night.

The two undefeated teams battled back and forth before the Bulldogs regional experience paid dividends down the stretch.

Columbus Grove used a fourth quarter run, then hit their free throws down the stretch to pull out a 55-50 win over the Archers in a Division IV regional semi-final at the Stroh Center on the Bowling Green State University.

The win sends the Bulldogs (26-0) to a Friday night regional final, back at BGSU, against the Tiffin Calvert/Parkway winner at 7 p.m. Antwerp finished the season at 25-1.

Antwerp had a 37-33 lead in the third quarter before the Bulldogs went on a 10-0 run to take a six point lead with 5:38 left in the game. Columbus Grove finally was able to get the tempo where they wanted it in the final quarter as they used the experience of a loss to Maumee Valley Country Day in last year’s regional semi-finals to fall back on.

“When you have two 25-0 teams, I figured it was going to be a slug fest,” Columbus Grove coach Chris Sautter said. “We obviously like to play fast and try to wear some teams down by the end of the game. Definitely being here last year, playing on this floor and being in this position was an advantage for us. Everyone was focused for this game, from the beginning of the season, as we had to get back to this game because there was unfinished business. This time around we won. We were down two and able to come out and make a run and get the win.”

Antwerp 6-7 sophomore Jagger Landers rallied his team from a 33-29 deficit in the third quarter to a 37-33 lead with eight straight points. Two Blake Reynolds free throws ended the third quarter scoring as Grove was down two.

Grove’s Evan Hopkins tied the game 27 seconds into the fourth quarter as he came up with a steal that he converted into a layup. Reynolds gave the Bulldogs the lead a minute later, then hit Hopkins and Tayt Birnesser in transition for a 43-37 Grove lead with 5:38 left.

“It started with Hop (Hopkins),” Sautter said. “We were on him the whole game. We felt he could force him to his right hand and wait for that crossover to comeback. He finally got one and got a transition layup, then we got a couple of more stops and took it to a four-six point game. We always say the first two minutes of the third quarter is the most important part of the game. You can push it to double figures or let them back into it. After they beat us that third quarter (12-8), for us to come out that first two minutes of the fourth quarter and get the lead was huge.”

“We wanted to play the whole game uptempo and hope eventually they would wear out,” Reynolds said. “At the end they started wearing out and we were able to go on a run.”

After the run, the closest the Archers would get was four points, on several occasions, in the time remaining. Birnesser helped keep Antwerp at bay as he hit 8-of-8 free throws in the final 48 seconds.

“It was nice to see him step up,’ coach Sautter said.”He went 8-of-8 at the line in the fourth quarter. Getting that 1,000th point in the second quarter, allowed him to relax and just play. For him to step up and hit those free throws down the stretch, as tired as he was. For him to have the legs to hit those free throws was huge.”

Birnesser finished the game with 17 points as he notched his 1,000th career point 13 seconds into the second quarter on a drive to the basket. He needed just one point coming in to reach 1,000 points.Reynolds added 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out eight assists. Gabe Clement and Alex Schneider both scored nine points.

Jagger Landers scored 19 points for the Archers with nine rebounds. Jacob Savina finished with 11 points.

“I thought it was a very well played game,’ Antwerp coach Doug Billman said. “They made a few more plays from the perimeter than we did. We didn’t shot the ball as well as we typically do. I thought we got back into the game in the third quarter by going inside, then we got a little stagnant to start the fourth quarter. We may have been looking too much for Jagger and they took advantage made a run. We just couldn’t get that basket, that play to get back in that groove in the third quarter.”

Until the Bulldogs pulled away in the fourth quarter neither team could establish a comfortable lead.

Columbus Grove had a 14-13 lead after the opening quarter as Savina scored the final five points of the first eight minutes. The second quarter saw seven lead changes before the Bulldohs took a 27-25 lead into halftime with a 5-0 run that had them leading 27-23. Owen Sheedy closed out the first half scoring for the Archers.

Columbus Grove 20-37 12-15 55: Reynolds 4-4-12; Birnesser 4-8-17; Hopkins 3-0-6; Clement 4-0-9; Halker 1-0-2; Myers 0-0-0; Sautter 0-0-0; Schroeder 0-0-0; Macke 0-0-0; Smith 0-0-0; Schneider 4-0-9.

Antwerp 21-53 5-5 50: Jag. Landers 8-1-19; Jay. Landers 4-0-8; Krouse 2-2-6; Savina 4-2-11; Lichty 0-0-0; Eaken 0-0-0; Hines 0-0-0; Schuette 1-0-2; Sheedy 2-0-4.

Columbus Grove 14 13 8 20 - 55

Antwerp 13 12 12 13 - 50