FINDLAY – For the last three weeks, Pandora-Gilboa head coach Joe Braidic has preached to his team to play with poise and live for the moment.
The Rockets have been doing that throughout the postseason and did it again in the Division IV District title game against Putnam County rival Kalida by beating the Wildcats, 56-33, in front of an overflowing crowd Friday night.
“You have to come out here and play poised and no matter how good you are you can’t be afraid of the moment and I was really proud our kids that they they did that and we hope that continues,” Braidic said. “We talked about that the pressure is off. We had one loss on the year and people kind of expected us to do this but I don’t think they understand what tournament basketball is about. Any thing can happen in tournament basketball.”
The Rockets move to the regional semifinals and will face Mohawk at Bowling Green State University at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Senior Eli Phillips, who pumped in a game high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, said this a big step for a team that had three wins three years ago and is now going to regionals.
“This is huge for us,” Phillips said. “The last couple of years have been a building phase for us and having won three games our freshman year was rough and nobody believe in us and we didn’t draw much interest …but as you can see our community is here now and we are just getting things done.”
Defense has been Pandora-Gilboa’s trademark this year and it proved to be the difference against Kalida. During the regular season, the Rockets held the Wildcats to 35 points.
From the opening buzzer, the Rockets came out strong and quicker than you can say bragging rights, Pandora-Gilboa scored the first 13 points of the game to establish themselves and the tempo of the game. By the end of the first quarter it was 13-5 in favor of the Rockets.
Kalida would cut into the Rocket lead and get it down to six, 15-9, with 5:39 left in the first half, however, that would be as close as the Wildcats would get as the Rockets outscored 13-6 to own a 26-15 lead going into halftime.
Pandora-Gilboa’s modest 5-0 run to open the second half saw the Rockets increase the lead to 33-17 and Kalida would never get the lead under double-digits the remainder of the game.
“It was just one of those nights,” Kalida head coach Ryan Stechschulte said. “Nothing was working and I really don’t have an explanation for it right now. We broke down mentally. They (Pandora-Gilboa) is very, very good and they make you pay for your mistakes immediately.”
Stechschulte added that getting down to a team like Pandora-Gilboa by 13 is like being down 20 points.
“When you behind that much you start doing a little things out of yourrealm,” Stechschulte said. “It became a one-on-one game for us and that plays right into their wheelhouse.”
In that first quarter, Kalida wanted to make sure Drew Johnson was not going to beat them and threw out a box-and-one defense to shut down the PCL player of the year. However, the strategy did not work as other players stepped up to fill the void.
Braidic said the Rockets had seen this before and the first time it put Johnson out of his game but this time the Rockets were ready for it,
Braidic added that this team is full of unselfish players who are concerned more about winning than box score statistics.
“We have been balanced all year,” Braidic said. “Drew averages most points naturally but everybody else can put in the basket so that was a big advantage for us. When they went to that (box and one) we told he team to keep working the ball around and find the open guy and attack. All of our guys are willing to give up the ball.”
In addition to Phillips 16 points, Jared Breece finished with 14 and Johnson chipped in 13 points.
For Kalida, freshman Luke Erhart was the lone Wildcats in double figures with 11 points.