ELIDA — Before their fingerprints were all over the district championship trophy, Delphos St. John’s footprints were all over the lanes on the basketball court at the Elida Fieldhouse.
Two exceptional individual performances and one unwavering strategy gave the Blue Jays a 63-46 win over St. Henry in the Division IV boys basketball district championship game at Elida on Friday night.
Ryan Buescher (24 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks), Curtis Geise (23 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) and defense led St. John’s into its first boys basketball regional in 11 years.
The Blue Jays will play Jackson Center (22-4) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in a Division IV regional semifinal at Trent Arena in Kettering.
No. 4-ranked St. Henry (21-4) owned a 71-57 regular-season win over the Blue Jays, which might not have been as close as the score indicated.
But St. John’s (18-5) learned some lessons in that game and applied them almost flawlessly this time.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t let St. Henry score close to the basket, a lesson driven home when the Redskins’ 6-4 senior post player Kyle Stahl scored 22 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the regular-season game.
Friday night, St. John’s put all five defenders in the lane or close to it and dared St. Henry to beat them from the outside.
“That was our game plan, not to get beat in the paint. If we were going to get beat, it was going to be from the 3-point arc,” St. John’s coach Aaron Elwer said. “Fortunately, our guys executed the game plan and they missed shots.”
Also, fortunately for the Blue Jays, St. Henry’s only answers from 3-point range in the first three quarters, when it went 0 for 15 from long range, were no how and no way.
St. John’s strategy was not exactly top-secret information. St. Henry knew teams would try it. The Redskins just didn’t think anyone could make it work so effectively.
“We were able to get the shots we’ve been hitting lately but it wasn’t our night,” St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck said.
“That would have been the game plan, I would have put out there, basically hoping we’re missing threes. If we are, you can beat us. If we’re making them, we’re really, really hard to beat,” he said.
St. John’s jumped out to a 23-14 halftime lead after outscoring St. Henry 9-0 in the final three minutes of the second quarter.
That was the exact opposite of the regular-season game when St. Henry got a big early lead.
It got worse for St. Henry when Buescher and Geise each hit 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half to give St. John’s a 29-14 lead. The Jays were up by 20 points late in the third quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach.
“When we played them the first time it took a while to get our offense going and defensively we weren’t good,” Buescher said. “But the big thing this time was we played a very good defensive first half. From there we just kept going.
“It got our confidence up, it’s just a good feeling to get off to a good start like that,” he said.
Geise said, “We knew we had to make some adjustments and Coach Elwer made the perfect adjustments. They live in the paint. The first game they shot some ridiculous percentage against us, something like 22 out of 30 in the paint.
“That’s where nearly all their points came so this time we were making them shoot it over the top. It was a great strategy,” he said.
Ryan Mikesell (14 points) and Stahl (13 points, 11 rebounds) led St. Henry, which had four players score in double figures in its regular-season win over St. John’s.
St. Henry and St. John’s shared the Midwest Athletic Conference title. But the ending was still abrupt and unexpected for the Redskins.
“That’s the thing about the tournament, it’s not best of three or best of five. One bad night and it’s over,” Rosenbeck said.