COLUMBUS GROVE — It is not often a head coach looks to temper his team’s enthusiasm coming into a new year but Columbus Grove Chris Sautter did just that this year.
Not because he wanted to stifle their positive attitude but instead to remind them games are won on the court and not on paper. Sautter, who returned six players that made it to regionals last year, knew he was bringing back a talented team.
Not expected to be a force in last season, the Bulldogs went 19-6 overall and shared the Northwest Conference title with Crestview with identical 7-1 marks and took second in the Putnam County League with a 6-1 record. After a successful regular season, the Bulldogs made a big postseason run that saw them capture a district title before bowing out in the regional semifinal to Maumee Valley Country Day 58-48.
“I think we maybe came in a little bit too confident,” Sautter said. “We talked about that even with football. They had a great run last year and came in and tried ride the coattails of the previous year’s success and just show up. They kind of got off to a rocky start but righted the ship and finished strong. We talked to them that we didn’t want that to happen in basketball.
“Last year I think, and I don’t know if sneaking up on people is the right word or phrase but starting three sophomores and being as young as we were I don’t know if the expectations were to win 19 games and make it to regionals and you do that and bring the majority of your team back, there is a lot of expectations and you are no longer sneaking up on people and you are kind of the hunted.”
Sautter added that is a learning process on how to deal with success and how to take everybody’s best shot. One of those is a team cannot afford to take a night off or have an off night.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 in Division IV, have learned that in the first half, and are off to a 10-0 start and are undefeated in both the Putnam County League and the Northwest Conference at 4-0.
“We have a got a lot of guys that really love basketball,” Sautter said. “It is good group to coach and a fun group to coach. They are pretty knowledgeable with a lot of experience. You don’t have to a lot of the instructing that you might have to do with a team of newcomers or guys who maybe don’t have as much knowledge as these guys to so you can accomplish in a sort amount of time.”
Sautter, who has been in the coaching business for about two decades, said this is hardest working group he has ever had.
“They make coaching enjoyable and very easy.”
In the first half of the season, the Bulldogs continued where they left off from last season only better.
The Bulldogs are averaging 68.5 points a contest and yielding 44.2 points a contest.
Sautter points to this team’s unselfish play on offense as one of the reasons for Bulldogs’ fast start.
“One of the nice thing about this team is that if we have, like in the Crestview game, Blake (Reynolds) scored two points but we had Alex(Schnieder) scored 19 or if there was a couple of games were Tayt (Birnesser)was in single digits and Blake had 30. You’ve got Gabe (Clement). You have Ethan (Halker). You have Hop (Evan Hopkins). If somebody has an off night I feel if like we have other guys that can step up and kind of fill in for in for them that night.”
As team have found out and Sautter reiterated that they pose a tough match up for teams because they have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket.
Sautter added that he has a team who looking to get everyone are else involved and because of this there is no super scorer but a lot of weapons and that is why the Bulldogs have five guys averaging around 7 to 10 points a contest.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are tenacious as well
“We are trying to play as fast as we can,” Sautter said. “We want to pressure people and force some turnovers and then get out and run in transition because we are pretty athletic. We have guys that are willing to run the floor. I feel like our team is in pretty good shape. I mean we are not like in the shape we need to be in and we have like seven guys so conditioning is a huge factor for us.”
Because of his team’s athleticism, Sautter opted to go with a more pressure defense, something he has not done previously in his coaching career.
“We probably press more this year than I have in my 17 years put together,” Sautter said. “It has never been my thing …It has never been comfortable for me and it is a learning process for me and it is a learning process for them. Every game after watching film, I say `we can do this better and we can probably do this better’ because I have to teach it better because I am not familiar with that style of play.”
Sautter said that when they trap well they shut down teams but when they don’t it can lead to a number of points. Primarily it has worked well, considering the Bulldogs record, however, the Bulldog coach also understands it is a work in progress.
In six of the Bulldogs’ wins, they have limited teams to 45 points or less. The most Columbus Grove has given up this year is 61 points.
Looking at the second half of the season, Sautter said he wants to continue this trend of hard work, unselfish play and smothering defense but understands it will be tougher as the team continues to win.
“I just don’t want to see us get comfortable.” Sautter added. “We are getting a lot of attention. You are here. The media was here last night. The crowds have been big and it is a lot of pressure for kids….It is what you want and that is what you try to tell them. This is a by-product of winning. Winning is why we are here. This other stuff we have to deal with and understand if you are not winning this doesn’t happen here. For us it’s that the kids handle the expectations.”