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Jacob Gutberlet’s buzzer-beater lifts Cougars past Wildcats

Photo by Mike Morrison Frontier’s Tanner Bills (1) shoots a floater from inside the free throw line while Waterford’s Jarrett Armstrong (23) and Jacob Huffman (24) defend him during the Cougars’ 40-39 win on Tuesday at the Harry Cooper Annex.

WATERFORD — Jacob Gutberlet took just one shot in his return for the Frontier Cougars Tuesday night at Waterford after missing the first six games of the season following a bout with COVID-19.

Gutberlet’s one shot was as big as they get as he canned a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from nearly 30-feet away as the Cougars stunned Waterford 40-39.

The Frontier senior caught a pass from point guard Breckin Hoff and calmly launched the game-winner directly in front of the Cougar bench as the buzzer sounded.

“If you’re going to make one shot in a game that’s the one you want to make,” joked Frontier head coach Roger Kirkpatrick of Gutberlet’s game-winner. “He’s worked really hard to get back and that couldn’t happen to a better kid.”

It seemed like Frontier was in come-back mode all game long as they rallied from 10 points down in the opening quarter and eight points down with four minutes to play to avenge an earlier season 34-32 loss to the Wildcats at home.

Waterford jumped out to a 16-8 lead at the end of the first quarter before the Cougars began to show some life early in the second.

Frontier got back-to-back buckets by Hoff and junior Tanner Bills to open the second quarter and spark a 10-0 run that turned the eight-point deficit into a two-point lead.

One free throw by Braden Miller and a pair by freshman Jarrett Armstrong pushed the white and green back in front but Frontier sophomore Lucas Cox came up with one of his seven steals in the game and converted the bucket in transition to send the Cougars to the locker room with a 20-19 lead.

Waterford jumped back in front to start the third quarter on a Holden Dailey two-pointer but Bills scored six consecutive points to give the Cougars their biggest lead of the game at 26-21.

Dailey led the home team with 15 points on the night including an old-fashioned three-point play to bring them to within two and later in the quarter his free throw tied the game at 28-28.

The Wildcats scored the final four points of the third period and continued their hot streak into the final period as buckets by senior Wade Smith and Dailey and a 3-pointer from Armstrong gave them a seven-point cushion.

Hoff made the front end of a 1-and-1 but missed the second and Smith answered with another field goal on the other end to give Waterford a 37-29 lead with less than four minutes to play.

Kirkpatrick switched his team’s defense to a full-court press and the results were immediate as the Cougars forced four turnovers on four consecutive Waterford possessions and converted all four into two-pointers to tie the game at 37-37.

“We switched to a press and our kids were able to come up with some huge turnovers,” said Kirkpatrick. “The Cox kid is just so quick he can create a lot of turnovers in a hurry.”

Bills and Hoff came up with the first two steals and Cox the latter two which evened the score with just 1:35 left to play.

The Wildcats jumped back in front on Jude Huffman’s field goal and the Cougars missed an opportunity to tie the game as they were able to grab several rebounds but couldn’t get the ball to drop forcing them to foul the Wildcats with 5.8 ticks left on the clock.

Bills led the Cougars in scoring with 14 points but fouled out when he grabbed Huffman leaving the Cougars without their number one target for the final play of the game.

Huffman’s first shot bounced off the rim and Hoff grabbed the crucial rebound for the Cougars and quickly fired the ball to Gutberlet who calmly stepped in to what would be the game winning shot.

“I thought Breckin Hoff played a great game for us tonight and that was a key rebound,” said Kirkpatrick. “It was just a great team win that took everyone of our kids contributing.”

Waterford head coach Tom Simms felt his team’s inability to cash in at the free-throw line as well as their struggles with the Cougar press led to their downfall.

“It’s the same old story. We made 19 or 20 turnovers and in crunch time we couldn’t make foul shots,” said Simms, whose team slipped to 4-5 with the loss. “Give Frontier credit…. they were hungry and found a way to get it done.”

Armstrong was the only other Wildcat to reach double figures as he finished with 10, while Cox joined Bills in double-digits for the winners with 12.

The win was a big one for Kirkpatrick’s Cougars who have struggled early while playing with a couple of key players out.

“Our kids have fought all year and we haven’t been able to play that much,” said Kirkpatrick, whose team improved to 2-5 with the win. “I’m very proud after everything we’ve been through to get a win like this. Our kids deserve it.”

Frontier will look to score back-to-back wins tonight when they travel to Beallsville while Waterford will host South Gallia on Friday night.

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