We continue our series on the greatest shots in the history of area high schools. Eventually, I hope to get around to every school. My selection is heavily influenced by the weight of postseason tournament games. Thus, the further down the tourney trail, the better. The choices are completely subjective on my part. Today, we take a look at the T-Birds.
Lima Central Catholic
March 17, 1983 – LCC vs. Willard - Regional semifinal at Toledo University’s Savage Hall.
There is an iconic photograph of the greatest shot in LCC history. That would be Scott Gross’ game winning bucket in the closing seconds of overtime in a regional semifinal. The basket propelled the T-Birds to their first trip to a regional final in school history. A photographer captured Gross, in mid-air, just as he released his jump shot, barely out of reach of his defender. The photo also captured the reaction of the large contingent of T-Bird fans, sitting directly behind Gross. The fans, rising in anticipation, are in the moment where they know the game’s outcome rides with the trajectory of Gross’ shot. Arenas often go eerily quiet in the brief seconds that game winning shots are launched, knowing that their reaction, either unbridled enthusiasm or crushing disappointment, is just a heartbeat away. On that memorable night, the T-Bird faithful experienced the former.
LCC had arrived in the postseason AA tournament (there were only three divisions in that era) with a 15-5 record and riding a seven-game winning streak. The Thunderbirds’ last loss was in overtime at Coldwater, their opponent in the sectional final at the Elida Fieldhouse. Bruce Hodges and Bill Taflinger, The Lima News’ “Player of the Year” that season, combined for 35 points in a convincing 60-46 win against the Cavaliers.
Hodges’ 28 points keyed a win against Fairview in the district semi and set up a rematch with Napoleon for the district championship at Ohio Northern University. Napoleon used its full court press to stymie LCC the previous year, but the T-Birds were prepared for it and pulled out a 61-52 victory. It was their 11th straight win, establishing a new school record.
LCC’s advancement to the regional tournament was its first in a decade. The T-Birds’ opponent, Willard, was appearing in the regional for the fifth consecutive season and had advanced to state the previous year. The Crimson Flashes, coached by legendary Bob Hass, boasted a 21-3 record and were ranked sixth in the state.
The game lived up to expectations. But the T-Birds’ hopes were challenged when Hodges fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Hodges, who was the most passionate player I ever coached, made a stirring plea to his teammates during the next timeout. “I had tears in my eyes,” he remembers. “I begged the guys to find a way to win the game.”
LCC’s role players stepped up and were the difference. Pat Thompson made four free throws late in regulation to keep the T-Birds close. Willard held a two-point lead with five seconds remaining when sophomore Steve Taflinger, Bill’s brother, sank two pressure free throws extending the game into overtime.
In the OT, Willard forged a lead only to see LCC answer. Hans Young tipped in a missed shot with 18 seconds on the clock setting up Gross’ big shot. The T-Birds held service on defense and I called a timeout with the score tied and only seconds remaining.
I remember the timeout. I wanted the ball in Bill Taflinger’s hands. In our coaches huddle we discussed who else would be on the floor but I was reluctant to put Gross in the game because he had only made one for six on shots that night. My young assistant, Jeff Heistan, (yep, that Jeff Heistan) thought Gross was due, so I went with his hunch.
We got the ball to Taflinger at the top of the key but Willard wasn’t about to let him have a shot. “I wanted to drive to the basket and get the shot but the defense double teamed me,” Taflinger remembers. “I saw Scott free on the baseline about 15 feet from the basket so I passed the ball to him.”
Taflinger remembers that Gross was reluctant to shoot for an instant. “When Scott caught the ball, I saw him hesitate for a moment so I yelled, ‘Shoot the ball,’” Taflinger says. As Gross rose for his jump shot, Willard’s 6-foot-7 center, Rex Adams, flew out to try to block his shot. Adams forced Gross to release his shot at a higher trajectory that actually improved his chances for success.
I had a perfect angle on the shot and remember thinking, “It’s dead on.” The ball slipped through the net and the T-Birds had their win. “It was a great feeling,” Gross remembers. “I’ve never had another quite like it.”
The other memory I have of the game was it did not start until nearly 9:30 and, with all the free throws and the overtime, it was not concluded until after 11. We had food delivered to the arena for after the game but it was late arriving. By the time we made the drive from Toledo back to Lima, it was nearly 2 a.m. We were all exhausted.
LCC met Oak Harbor in the regional final a day later with a trip to Columbus on the line. Our opponent was undefeated and ranked number two in the state. We ran out of gas late in the game and lost a heartbreaker. But that T-Bird squad will be remembered for opening the door for the great LCC tournament teams that followed in its footsteps.
For the record, Scott Gross’ baseline jumper in the 1983 regional semi is my pick for greatest shot in LCC basketball history.
Runner up: March, 1969. Mark “Rat” Blanchard tips in a missed shot at the buzzer vs. Delphos St. John’s in a sectional championship game to tie the score at 100. (Scoreboard was all zeros) Blanchard was fouled on the tip and made the free throw for a 101-100 win.
Next up: Elida
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.