COLUMBUS GROVE — Bluffton’s game plan was to limit Columbus Grove’s big three, Paige Bellman, Jade Clement and Macy McCluer, scoring and make other girls pick up the load. It didn’t take long for the Pirates game plan to go down the drain.

Behind 11 first quarter points from sophomore guard Rylee Sybert and a three-pointer from Lauren Schroeder, the Bulldogs bolted out to a big lead and were never challenged in recording a 69-24 Northwest Conference win Thursday night.

With the win, Columbus Grove, fifth ranked in Division III, repeats as outright NWC champion with an 8-0 record and are 20-1 overall. The Pirates dropped to 7-1 in the NWC and 16-6 overall. The Lady Bulldogs have now won 13 straight games since a one point loss to Ottawa-Glandorf in December.

“I’m just happy for the girls,” Columbus Grove coach Brian Schroeder said. “It was really cool that it came down to the last game, both communities came out to support their team, it was a great environment. We were lucky enough to come away with it.”

Columbus Grove missed their first three shots of the game, but it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to take command of the game as Bellman scored on an offensive rebound to start the scoring and Clement later hit a three-pointer for a quick 5-0 lead. Sybert then took over scoring 11 points the rest of the quarter as she knocked down three three-pointers and went coast to coast for a layup after getting a rebound.

Lauren Schroeder came off the bench to hit a three-pointer and Columbus Grove was able to turn two Pirate turnovers into points as the Bulldogs had a 27-4 lead after eight minutes.

“Bluffton switches defenses up quite a bit and we felt they would come out with something we hadn’t seen before,” coach Schroeder said. “They left a couple of girls open and Rylee Sybert just had herself a quarter with 11 points. In big games like this, I think it’s important to start fast and everything just seems to get easier. Once someone starts hitting shots, it’s contagious and everything starts snowballing.”

While the Bulldog offense came out firing, hitting 5-of-8 first quarter three’s, the Pirates could never solve Columbus Grove’s aggressive 2-3 zone. The Pirates were just 1-of-13 shooting the first half, a three-pointer by Katie Prater in the first quarter, and turned the ball over 16 times. For the game, Bluffton finished 5-of-9 from two-point range, but just 8-of-28 overall (28 percent) with 28 turnovers.

“I thought our defensive intensity was great holding them to six points in the first half,” Schroeder said. “Bluffton is a great shooting team and I thought we did a nice job covering the perimeter. Our perimeter players did a good job of locating their three-point shooters and Paige was inside communicating to them.”

Bluffton managed only two points, two free throws, in the second quarter as the Bulldogs outscored them 18-2 as six different players scored for Grove in the quarter. Columbus Grove started the third quarter with an 8-2 run as coach Schroeder pulled his starters with 3:40 left in the quarter. The Bulldogs still managed a 13-4 scoring run as Bluffton reached double digits with 2:55 left in the quarter.

“We were trying to take away Bellman, Clement and even (Macy) McCluer to make the Sybert and Schroeder girls beat us,” Bluffton coach Eric Garmatter said. “The girls we wanted to take the shots missed a couple of early, but they were just getting too many offensive rebounds, then they started hitting those shots. It just snowballed from there. And they just extended us so far, defensively, and wore us out as we are not very deep.”

Clement led the Bulldogs with 14 points, while Sybert had 11 points and Bellman 10 points, nine rebounds and five steals.

Abbie Parkins had eight points to lead the Pirates, six of them coming in the fourth quarter on two three-pointers.

Saturday afternoon the Bulldogs will have a chance at an outright Putnam County League title as they host rival Pandora-Gilboa at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs are currently 6-0 in the PCL.

* * *

Bluffton 8-28 5-8 24: Alivia Koenig 1-1-3; Abbie Parkins 2-2-8; Averey Rumer 2-0-4; Katie Prater 1-0-3; Kayla White 0-0-0; Libby Schaddt 1-2-4; Brinkley Garmatter 1-0-2.

Columbus Grove 26-46 7-13 69: Macy McCluer 3-0-8; Jenny Ellerbrock 2-0-4; Rylee Sybert 4-0-11; Lauren Birkemeier 2-0-5; Jade Clement 5-2-14; Danielle Caudill 0-0-0; Carlee McCluer 0-3-3; Lauren Schroeder 2-0-6; Grace Schroeder 1-0-2; Hallie Malsam 1-1-3; Paige Bellman 5-0-10; Amy Vorst 1-1-3.

Bluffton 4 2 4 14 - 24

Columbus Grove 27 18 13 11 - 69

Three-point goals: Bluffton 3-19 (Parkins 2, Prater 1); Columbus Grove 10-20 (M. McCluer 2, Sybert 3, Birkemeier 1, Clement 2, L. Schroeder 2).

Rebounds: Bluffton 18; Columbus Grove 27 (Bellman 9).

Turnovers: Bluffton 28, Columbus Grove 10.