BELLAIRE - Bridgeport found itself in a tough spot Friday night.
The Bulldogs were coming off a lopsided setback at Steubenville Catholic on Tuesday night and faced a trip to the 'House of Champions' to tangle with a Bellaire squad that it had lost to in December.
With an OVAC semifinal game against top-seeded Wellsville staring the Bulldogs in the face on Tuesday, the Bulldogs certainly didn't want to go into that game on a skid.
BRIDGEPORT’S J.C. Cash goes up for a shot as Bellaire’s Nathan Steele (left)?defends during Friday’s game. Also looking on is Ryan Callarik. Additional images may be found at cu,timesleaderonline.com
They don't have to worry about that now. Bridgeport set the tone early by scoring the first 13 points and then overcame a furious Bellaire rally in the third to pull away for a 74-53 victory.
"We gave the kids the day off after the Steubenville Central game and we knew we needed to build some momentum," said Bridgeport head coach Donnie Cash. "We got a win and some confidence now. If you go into the (OVAC) off a loss, you don't know where you're minds would be, so we just have to trust and believe."
The Bulldogs appeared to be headed to a literal rout of the Big Reds, who were playing for the second consecutive night. Bridgeport didn't slow down after the game's opening run. It proceeded to build a 23-6 lead after one quarter and then stretched it as many as 27 (33-6) at a juncture in the second quarter.
"We dug ourselves a terrible hole," said Bellaire head coach J.R. Battista. "Bridgeport came out and played well. Anyone who claims they were tired is making an excuse. Excuses are for weak people and are a lot like junk food. You feel good for a little bit, but they're not good for you. Bridgeport played well and played better than us. It's that simple."
The Bulldogs were able to build their big lead by establishing junior post Parker Dyson early and often. He scored 11 of his 23 points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, on the other end, the Big Reds struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm.
"I loved our defense in the first half," Cash said. "We wanted to sag off the other guys to slow down (Michael) Neil and (Nathan) Steele, which we did a good job of in the first half."
Basically with no other choice, the Big Reds made their run in the third quarter after going into attack mode offensively. Junior post Tyler Ramsay got going, Steele scored all seven of his points and Sterling Wright came off the bench for seven.
All told, the Big Reds, who trailed by 22 at half, outscored the Bulldogs, 31-15 in the third quarter.
"We didn't stop the drive at all in the third quarter and they got bucket after bucket," Cash said. "I don't think we got a stop in the third quarter. I am happy with how we responded in the fourth quarter."
The Big Reds gained a majority of the momentum and trailed just 51-45 at the final stop.
However, the Bulldogs scored 10 of the first 14 in the fourth and made a living at the foul line as four Big Reds' players were disqualified due to personals.
"We showed great effort and heart to get back into the game," Battista said. "They made a lot of foul shots to stretch it out. It was a good effort for our guys, but you don't get medals for effort. You get medals for winning."
Bridgeport cashed 17-of-23 from the line in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
The Bulldogs had four players in double figures. Dyson led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Junior Q.J. Williams also posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. J.C. Cash continued his strong play with 15 points and Koty Seevers added 12.
The Big Reds were paced by Ramsay's 19 points and eight rebounds. Wright finished with nine in top support.
The hosts were charted for 14 turnovers, which was one fewer than the winners.
Both teams return to action Tuesday in OVAC play. While Bridgeport is in the championship bracket of 2A, the Big Reds will trek to Shenandoah for a consolation game.
Bellaire managed a split by capturing the jayvee encounter.
BRIDGEPORT (74) - Williams 4, 7-8 15; McGrath 0, 4-5 4; Seevers 1, 10-15 12; Sieber 1, 1-1 3; Dyson 10, 3-7 23; Cash 6, 2-3 15; Pyatt 1, 0-0 2; Totals: 23, 27-39 74. BELLAIRE (53) - Neil 3, 0-0 6; Steele 3, 1-2 7; Ramsay 8, 3-6 19; Hess 2, 0-0 4; Callarik 0, 0-0 0; Wright 4, 1-3 9; Westlake 2, 0-0 4; Kimbro 2, 0-1 4; Back 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 24, 5-12 53.
3-point goals: Bpt - Cash. Bel - None.