PANDORA — Due to the success of the football season, many might have thought the Pandora-Gilboa basketball team might get off to a slow start. But the opposite happened as the senior laden squad carried over the confidence and the winning spirit over to basketball.
The Rockets have gone 9-1 to open the season and head coach Joe Braidic said this team is still improving as Pandora-Gilboa prepares for a weekend of tough games beginning with Leipsic on Friday followed by a big Putnam County League match-up with Ottoville on Saturday. Both Ottoville and Pandora-Gilboa are 2-0 in the PCL.
“We are still a little bit behind,” Braidic said. “We were talking about that the other day that there is things we are doing now that we would have done last year at the beginning of December. We are just getting to them because the season is a progression and we are now just getting to those things and throwing them into our offense and getting better with defensive reads. But we are coming.”
Braidic added that it is the little details on offense that add up that need to be worked on such as when to pass and when to shoot are still being incorporated into the evolving offense.
It is tough to imagine this team getting better after its tremendous start but a lot of experience, a tough defense and having PCL player of the year Drew Johnson has been beneficial in the first half of the season.
With the core players coming back from a team that won 16 games last year, Braidic said he knew he had a talented team and they are led by Johnson who averaged 19.3 points a game and is again having another big year. Johnson, who had a double-double against Arlington last week, became the all-time leading scorer in Pandora-Gilboa hoops history.
“Mostly we rely on the kids now even though the other kids did contribute it is not like they were our leading scorers,” Braidic said. “So they come back with 16 wins and had a good summer and put a lot of time into the summer and so they earned the right to have the success and it starts with Drew (Johnson) being a top flight player and other guys playing their roles, and I think we defend pretty well.”
One of the areas Braidic is looking to shore up is the team’s offense. The team is averaging 60 points a contest.
“We shoot the ball extremely well and that makes us hard to guard,” Braidic said. “We spread people out, we drive and we shoot.”
Another strength of this team is its size. Braidic said this team can put four players on the floor that are 6-foot-3 or taller at one time.
“We don’t have great height but we are not overly tall,” Braidic said. “We have good length for a Division IV team.
The lone loss for this squad came against Upper Scioto Valley that saw the Rockets drop a 55-52 loss to the Rams on Dec. 23.
“Going over to USV was a learning experience, Braidic said. “They are a good team and when you play a good team and you are not ready that is what you get.”
However, the team bounced back from that loss with a 30-27 win against Arlington followed by a 44-42 victory against Miller City.
Braidic added that winning close games like this prepares the team for big games down the stretch and when they battle in the tournament.
Braidic said the team is approaching the Ottoville encounter as another game in the season. That is not to say he is taking the game lightly but he understands there is still plenty to play during the last half of the year.
“Yesterday’s practice was mostly about us,” Braidic added. “We had to get better in a couple of things that we did against Miller City where we didn’t execute very well. We will start working on Leipsic today (Tuesday) and we will get into Ottoville later this week.”
OTTOVILLE — Another week. Another big game.
It seems like the past two weeks Ottoville (11-2) has been engaging in games against some of the top teams in the area and that trend continues when the Big Green travel to Pandora-Gilboa (9-1) in a key Putnam County League contest Saturday.
Beginning on Dec. 22, the Big Green faced Elida, unbeaten this year, followed by Delphos St. John’s, co-Northwest Conference leaders Crestview and Lincolnview, McComb, Miller City and a game against perennial state powerhouse Minster.
In that run, Ottoville opened with two tough losses, a 66-61 defeat to state-ranked Elida followed by an overtime loss to Delphos that saw the Big Green erase a 15-point third quarter deficit before falling in the extra frame.
After those two losses, the Big Green reeled off wins against Crestview, Lincolnview, McComb and Minster to produce a four-game winning streak.
“We had a really busy start of the season,” Ottoville head coach Keith Utendorf said. “Obviously it was successful but it really challenged us. Now we start the meat of our league schedule. We are excited about Saturday. They are a huge opponent and present a lot of difficult aspects for us to guard as well as even attack.”
Like Pandora-Gilboa, Ottoville returned an experienced roster with six seniors so Utendorf said he expected the team to be good and they have produced. As a team, Ottoville is averaging 66 points a game. Leading the team in scoring is Logan Kemper who is pumping in 17.5 points per game. Nick Moorman is averaging 12.3 points a game.
Another reason for the early season victories was the emergence of Joshua Thorbahn who is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points a game.
“We knew we had six seniors back from a team that was very close last year to being a very good team so with their leadership and the infusion of some of the younger players that we have brought along we knew there was a chance for us to have a very good year.”
After opening the season. 7-0, Utendorf knew the two-week stretch of games beginning with Elida would test his team and give him a good gauge of where his team was at.
“We knew that slate of games in that amount of time was a great barometer for us,” Utendorf said. “Sitting at 11-2 we are happy.”
Utendorf said the losses to Elida and St. John’s were good for the team in the sense that he liked how his players responded against the Blue Jays especially after coming off a loss and making a big comeback against Delphos before falling in overtime.
In that game, Ottoville found itself down by 12 in the final stanza but on the strength of some solid shooting and a tenacious defense erased the double-digit advantage before running out of gas in the extra frame.
“I thought we knew as much or figured out as much about our team in that loss as we could have in any other situation even if we would have went in there and won,” Utendorf said. “I feel like that game really exposed some things we could get better at but also really exposed the characters of our guys and I think battling back from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter and then I think it was 10 or 12 in the last three minutes to get it tied and get it into overtime and give ourselves a chance, that said more about our kids and our team more than anything else we would have found out in any other situation.”
Depth and versatility are two advantages Ottoville has that makes it tough to beat.
Utendorf said the team is pretty much 10 deep with a number of players who can go different positions so the Big Green can go big or go small and not lose much.
“We can have a lot of length and we can go with a quicker lineup and mix and match depending on what teams do to us,” Utendorf said. “We have a lot of flexibility.”
Utendorf added that one area he keeps harping on his team is team defense. “If we guard and collectively guard on every possession we are going to have a pretty good year.”