High school boys basketball sectional tournaments begin this week and four weeks from now 16 teams will be in Columbus for the state tournament.
Most of those 16 teams will have entered the postseason with the expectation they were destined for a trip to the final four in their division. But sometimes a team surprises itself, its fans and everybody else in a big way.
Here are five of the most unlikely teams from western Ohio to appear in a boys state basketball tournament and a bonus pick of a team that has been more underappreciated than unlikely:
1. Coldwater 1993. The Cavaliers were 4-16 in the regular season. They finished eighth in the Midwest Athletic Conference. They lost their last nine regular-season games. But once the tournament started, they watched Hoosiers before every game and just kept winning and winning and winning.
They won their first three tournament games by 41 points over Allen East, 11 over Riverdale and over Archbold by eight.
Then things got really interesting. They beat Wayne Trace 57-54 in double overtime to win the district. And after a 19-point win over Wynford in a regional semifinal the Cavs won 56-54 over Patrick Henry in the regional championship game.
Their unbelievable tournament run ended in the Division III state semifinals, but just barely, when they lost 58-55 to Belpre.
2. Delphos St. John’s 1995. The Blue Jays were 5-14 in the regular season and finished in a three-way tie for fifth in the Midwest Athletic Conference.
St. John’s started the postseason by beating Fort Recovery and Marion Local, two teams it had beaten during the regular season. Then it won 68-67 over St. Henry, a team it had lost to by two points the first time they played.
A 69-66 overtime win over Portsmouth East in a Division IV regional championship game sent the Blue Jays to the state tournament, where the magic ran out in a 72-55 loss to Springfield Catholic Central, led by 6-11 future NBA player Jason Collier.
3. Kalida 1967. The Wildcats were 10-8 in the regular season. Not bad, but certainly not a predictor of going all the way to the state tournament. Especially in an era when there were only two divisions in Ohio high school basketball.
Kalida won both its district championship game and regional championship game in two overtimes – by a 48-47 score over Miller City in the district and 67-65 over Fayette in the regional before losing to Arcanum 54-48 in a state semifinal.
4. Marion Local 2004. The Flyers were the 2003 Division IV state champion but all five starters from that team had graduated. They were 11-9 in the regular season but performed at a high level once they got to the tournament, winning their sectional games by 18 and 24 points, their district games by 21 and 19 points, their regional games by eight and nine points and their state semifinal by seven points before losing to Holgate in the Division IV state championship game.
5. Fort Loramie 1977. The Redskins were talented underachievers early in the season. They were 5-6 after 11 games and finished the regular season 12-8 before becoming a dominant team in the Class A tournament.
They won their two regional games by 16 points over Covington and by 20 points over Middletown Fenwick, then beat Continental 70-50 in a state semifinal and won the state championship game 63-50 over Mansfield St. Peter’s.
6. And now the bonus pick. Lima Senior. 1982. The Spartans were 14-6 in the regular season, had a great player in Bruce Andrews, a great coach in Ron Niekamp and several other good players.
The first five teams on the list were a surprise because of their records. Lima Senior wasn’t so much unlikely as it was underappreciated and unlucky.
Three of Lima Senior’s losses were by two points and it also lost its last two regular games in overtime against Shawnee and Hamilton.
If not for a controversial no-call that went against the Spartans in the final seconds their state semifinal, they might have won a state championship.
Lima Senior and eventual Class AAA state champ Cincinnati Roger Bacon were tied 47-47 late in their state semifinal.
A Roger Bacon player put up a shot that missed. Two Lima Senior players and a Roger Bacon player made contact going for the rebound and all three ended up on the floor.
Roger Bacon’s Bruce Knolle picked up the ball and put in a lay-up for the game-winning shot just before the buzzer.
Lima Senior thought there had been a foul by a Roger Bacon player, but none was called. And some people thought the final sequence took longer than the time on the clock when it began. There was speculation the timekeeper thought a foul had been called and turned off the clock but no way to prove or disprove it.