Local Sports

Thursday, February 14, 2013

College Basketball: Piehls to spend Valentine's Day helping UF squads battle rival
By BRIAN LESTER

STAFF WRITER

Forget about a romantic dinner, a dozen roses or a box of chocolates.

On a night set aside for love, Brad and Laura Piehl will spend their Valentine's Day in a gymnasium where hatred stemming from a fierce in-state rivalry game will be the theme of the evening.

Brad and Laura are basketball players at the University of Findlay. They are also husband and wife. And they will spend tonight helping their respective teams take aim at wins against Ashland University.

The men's team battles the Eagles in an important Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division encounter at 6 p.m. in Croy Gymnasium. The women's team will be up against the Eagles, No. 1 team in NCAA Division II.

"It's funny because we were talking the other day about what we were going to do (tonight)," Brad said. "I guess we're going to be playing basketball, but we both enjoy it. We enjoy watching each other play. It's great to see (Laura) come back from her injury and start to play more. It makes it special."

Laura tore her anterior cruciate ligament in an exhibition game against Bowling Green in November 2011 and missed the entire season. She missed half of this season as well. The senior guard is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

Like her husband, she is pulling for him to do his best.

"It's definitely really cool and I want him to do well in every game," Laura said. "Playing here has been a great opportunity for both of us and we are both thankful and blessed for everything we have."

Brad noted that one of the best things about their relationship is that they understand what the other is going through as a student-athlete.

"It really helps having someone else that knows basketball," Brad said. "We can give each other advice and pick each other up after a tough game. It's great going through the process together."

The process continues tonight and both teams are looking for revenge.

The men's team lost 61-60 to the Eagles last month in Ashland, one of four losses by five points or less.

The Oilers (15-6, 12-5 GLIAC) are atop the division by a game and are in a three-way tie for second overall in the GLIAC. The Oilers are vying for another trip to the NCAA Division II tournament.

"We have a lot of motivation," Findlay head coach Charlie Ernst said. "Ashland played well the last time, but we feel like we had some chances to finish and we didn't do it. Everything that could have gone wrong did for us. But we still control our own destiny and the players know there is a lot on the line."

The Eagles (9-11, 7-10), who are 0-8 on the road, are 4-2 since beating the Oilers and have rattled off four consecutive wins. Ashland is two games out of a playoff berth going into this week.

Senior forward Evan Yates (16.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg) leads Ashland and is the reigning GLIAC South Division Player of the Week. Yates scored 13 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in a 79-62 win over Malone University Saturday.

Yates' presence in the paint opens things up for the Eagles' outside shooters, including junior forward Will Evans (9.6 ppg), who has knocked down 27 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Brook Turson (8.0) has connected on 27 treys while senior guard Ronnie Steward (8.7) has buried 17 "3s". The Eagles average 67.6 points per outing and allow 66.6.

The Oilers have thrived defensively, allowing only 63.1 points per outing. They have held their last 13 opponents to 70 or less and allow teams to shoot just 28.1 percent from 3-point range.

The effort has translated into energy and confidence on offense, especially in the second half.

"Without a doubt, we are playing with more confidence as a team," Ernst said. "We want to force the tempo, force turnovers and have that lead to better shots. We're doing a better job of that. It's also important to play at home with the same hunger and motivation that we had on the road last week. We've shown glimpses of it, but I don't feel like we've done that yet consistently."

As the men's team looks to move a step closer to a division crown, the women's team is aiming for its seventh consecutive victory.

The Oilers (17-4, 14-3) are second overall in the conference and have the second best record in the Midwest Region.

Findlay has won 10 of its last 11 games, its only loss a 72-41 defeat to the unbeaten Eagles (23-0, 16-0) last month. The 2012 national runner-up has won 49 consecutive regular-season games.

Ashland has continued to win despite being without the services of reigning national player of the year Kari Daugherty. The senior forward injured her knee in the last game against the Oilers and hasn't been back since. She was averaging 22.5 points and 15 rebounds per outing before the injury.

But the Eagles, who average 79 ppg and allow 53.9, have others capable of stepping up, including Daiva Gerbec (14.5, 9.3 rpg).

The Oilers are putting up 70.1 points per outing and allowing 59. Kayla Brown leads the team in scoring at 17.7 ppoints per game.

Lester: 419-422-5151,

brianlester@thecourier.com


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