After three days of non-stop action and 12 games, the 96th annual state boys basketball tournament is in the books. I would not describe the tournament as one of my all-time favorites, but there is no question about the best story that unfolded at state this year. That would be Marion Local’s championship weekend.
The Flyers, led by their impressive young coach, Kurt Goettemoeller, played the two most exciting and entertaining games in the tournament this year, beating a tough-minded Pandora-Gilboa squad by two points in the semi and keeping the Schottenstein crowd on its feet in their improbable one-point, double overtime thriller in the championship final. Both contests were “coach’s games” and drew favorable ratings from the large contingent of high school coaches who occupied the best seats in the house.
The same can’t be said about the Division III championship game that followed. That battle, between Columbus Africentric and Deer Park, quickly evolved into a track race that resembled a bad open gym with a five second shot clock. The Wildcats from Cincinnati prevailed.
Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller and Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys hoisted the championship trophies in the Division I and II finals in impressive, workman-like fashion. Their wins provided those critics still clamoring for separate private and public school tournaments an opportunity to revive their argument. But a more realistic proposal has been forwarded by the OHSAA and member schools will have the opportunity to vote on it this May. The new proposal would allow a transfer athlete to play only the first half of the season and then sit out the second half and the postseason tournament. One thing is clear. There has been a growing number of athletic transfers in recent years, to both public and private institutions, and they are impacting the tournament. The vast majority of fans and coaches strongly favor limiting the eligibility of athletic transfers.
I have two, and they both have one thing in common: neither scored a point.
Eli Phillips, a 6-foot-3 senior post player for Pandora-Gilboa, was given the daunting task of battling the huge front line of Marion Local in the Division IV semifinal. The Flyers efficient offense was constantly looking to pound the ball into their post players, especially Tyler Mescher, the heart of the Flyer squad. Miller never gave an inch and spent every minute of the game working for position and denying passes into the post. His stat line included an incredible six steals on post entry passes but he did not score a point. By game’s end, Miller was completely exhausted, having spent every ounce of energy he possessed. Marion Local wins that game by double figures if Miller is not on the court. An effort that warms an old coach’s heart.
Marion Local’s Matt Rethman had a similar type performance in the Flyers’ breathtaking championship win against Cornerstone Christian. Cornerstone was led by Michael Bothwell, the Division IV Player of the Year, who was as talented as any player in Columbus this weekend. As the game progressed, it was obvious that Bothwell was the first, second and third option for Cornerstone and in the tense closing moments of the fourth quarter and both overtimes his teammates worked to get the ball in his hands on every possession. Rethman drew the defensive assignment and his entire focus was on denying Bothwell the ball or, at least, wearing him out as he worked to get open. Rethman literally planted his head on Bothwell’s chest and stayed permanently glued to his opponent. It worked. He slowed the Patriots’ scoring machine down. Without scoring a point, Rethman’s play was a huge factor in Marion Local’s win.
This one is easy. The best moves I saw this past weekend belong to Marion Local’s Max Albers, Kyle Francis and Alex Eyink. These three players sat at the end of the Flyer bench and, during timeouts, as the team surrounded Gottenmoeller for instructions, they stepped away from the huddle and danced to the pounding music that amped through the Schottenstein Center. Yep, you heard that right. They danced. And not just a few do-si-doe steps. These guys threw down some serious feet. And hands and arms and everything else. By their second game at state, fans in the arena were stretching their necks to get a look at the trio’s impromptu performances. When asked about his bench players cutting a rug during his timeouts, Gottenmoeller was emphatic in his support. “We believe everybody on our team has a role in our success.” he said. “Those guys gave us energy and our crowd loved them.”
You can bet the good folk in the communities of Maria Stein, Chickasaw, Cassella, Osgood, St. Sebastian, Yorkshire and St. Rose were all dancing in the street this weekend.
This is my last column for the basketball season. Thanks to everyone at The Lima News for their support and special thanks to you, our readers.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.