COLUMBUS — It was the kind of game teams want to play when they get to a state basketball tournament.
It was the kind of game fans want to see when they go to a state tournament. Add in the fact that the two schools playing the game were small-town teams with fan bases who cared — really cared — about it and it was a wildly entertaining afternoon of basketball when Pandora-Gilboa and Marion Local faced each other in a Division IV boys basketball state semifinal Thursday.
“You come down here and what you want to see is teams play their best, have a good game and see what happens. That’s what we saw. I think that’s one of the better games you’ll see down here,” Pandora-Gilboa coach Joe Braidic said after Marion Local beat P-G 56-54 in a game in which the two teams were never separated by more than six points and never by more than four in the second half.
“That was a heck of a game, they just made a couple more plays and came out on top,” he said.
Marion Local coach Kurt Goettemoeller saw the same thing. “What a heck of a high school basketball game that was,” he said.
“The fans who came here today got treated to a great game between two northwest Ohio programs. Pandora is a whale of a team and it took everything we had to come out on top today.”
It was a battle to the end, which came when Nathan Bruns caught what is commonly known as a baseball pass in basketball, but in Marion Local’s case possibly should have been called a football pass, to run out the clock.
Ten of Marion Local’s 12 players were on the Flyers’ Division VI state champion football team last fall, which was the school’s sixth football state championship in the last seven years.
Pandora-Gilboa was getting its first taste of state tournament competition on Thursday.
From the start, it was a level playing field, not one that tilted toward Marion Local because of all that postseason experience and history, though.
“We did everything you’re supposed to do. I wouldn’t change it. We played well enough to win. They just played a touch better,” Braidic said.
Some of that confidence and composure might have come from the Rockets getting a win over the Flyers in a game at Van Wert last summer.
Also, some people might have overlooked the fact Pandora-Gilboa came into the game with a 26-1 record, won two leagues and had the greatest basketball season in school history.
“We came in with confidence. We knew we could play with these guys. We weren’t afraid of them,” Braidic said.
Drew Johnson, who led the Rockets with 24 points, 19 of them in the first half, said, “We’ve been, believe it or not with our record, the underdog most of the year. We’ve heard people saying we can’t get out of the regional, we can’t beat Crestview. Coming down here, we heard we couldn’t give a MAC team a game, that we’d get beat by 10 or 15 points.
“So we were like, if we’re the underdogs, why not just go out and play your game and show the state what we’re about. It didn’t come out the way we wanted but I think people walked out of this game saying we’re legit. We played our hearts out but the ball fell in a few more times for them than it did for us.”
It was a game so good it was enjoyed by most of the crowd of 9,003 watching and appreciated by those whose team came up just short. The state tournament needs more games like this.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.