COLUMBUS GROVE — It was over by the time the late arriving fans were picking out their seats.
Actually, it might have been over sooner than that.
Columbus Grove jumped out to a 45-6 halftime lead on its way to a 69-24 win over Bluffton on Thursday night that gave Grove (20-1, 8-0 Northwest Conference) an outright NWC girls basketball championship.
Bluffton (16-6, 7-1 NWC) also came into the game undefeated in the league. But it quickly became apparent Columbus Grove was going to repeat as the undefeated conference champion.
Even Tom Brady does not come back from being down 45-6 at halftime.
“In big games like this, it’s really important to start fast. And once you do, everything gets easier,” Columbus Grove coach Brian Schroeder said. “Somebody starts hitting shots and it’s kind of contagious from there.”
Jade Clement led the Bulldogs with 14 points. Rylee Sybert scored 11 points and Paige Bellman had 10 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
No one started faster offensively than Sybert, who had all 11 of her points in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers.
“They left a couple girls open and Rylee Sybert just had herself a quarter,” Schroeder said.
Columbus Grove’s defense also was dominant. It forced 26 turnovers, including nine in the first quarter. The tone was set early when the Pirates didn’t get off their first shot until after Grove had put up nine shots.
It was 27-4 after one quarter, 45-6 at halftime and Bluffton didn’t get into double figures as a team until late in the third quarter.
“You can break it down however you want, but sometimes it’s just a matter of we hit shots. And I thought our defensive intensity was great, holding them to six points in the first half,” Schroeder said.
Sybert said, “In our big games we always try to start off quickly. Defense is a huge part of our game. Coach always says defense wins championships. It’s really true.”
Columbus Grove’s biggest lead was 50 points, at 60-10, early in the fourth quarter. It shot 56 percent overall (26 of 46) and 50 percent on 3-pointers (10 of 20).
Bluffton was 8 of 28 (28 percent) and scored 14 of its 24 points in the fourth quarter. Abbie Parkins led the Pirates with eight points.
“It was really big because Bluffton was undefeated and so were we. We knew they weren’t going to lose without a fight so we had to come in playing the best we could to be able to win,” Clement said.
“Getting a good start and getting the crowd into it really helps our momentum. We can feed off that,” she said.
With a win at Pandora-Gilboa on Saturday, Columbus Grove can also wrap up an undisputed Putnam County League championship. And then it’s on to the tournaments, where the Bulldogs advanced to the Division III regional semifinal round last year.
“I can’t wait to try for the PCL (championship) and for the tournaments,” Sybert said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.