DAYTON — Botkins attacked the first 4 1/2 minutes of its 60-44 win over Columbus Grove in the Division IV boys basketball state championship game like a NASCAR driver with the finish line in sight.
The pedal was to the metal and no one was going to catch up to them.
With that burst of fire, fury and lots of 3-pointers the Trojans ran out to a 16-0 lead to start the game, which was pretty much the story of the contest. They led by 16 early and won by 16 to claim the first team state championship in any sport at Botkins.
Columbus Grove regrouped to cut Botkins’ lead to two points on a steal and bucket by Gabe Clement with 1:40 to play in the first half and got to within two points again late in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Tayt Birnesser.
But the Bulldogs never were able to erase all of the early deficit. It was still a three-point game, at 37-34, in the first minute of the fourth quarter. But then Botkins went on a 23-10 run over the final 7 1/2 minutes to end Grove’s hopes of winning a state championship.
Jason Priddy-Powell, a 5-foot, 10-inch senior guard, scored 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, to lead Botkins (27-3). Carter Pleiman, a 6-5 sophomore, had 17 points and 6 rebounds and Jacob Pleiman, a 6-6 junior, scored 10 points and grabbed 8 rebounds.
Gabe Clement scored 18 points and Blake Reynolds had 17 points and 9 rebounds for Columbus Grove (25-3).
“You get yourself behind like that and you work your tail off to get back into the game. We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Columbus Grove coach Chris Sautter said. “They’re big, Powell’s a great point guard. They worked hard at the offensive end and they made everything at our offensive end hard to come by. We had to earn everything.”
Asked if he’d ever had a team fall behind by a bigger margin than 16-0 at the beginning of a game, Sautter said, “I don’t know. Today felt like a hundred points when it was 16-0 based on the magnitude of the game.”
Priddy-Powell, hit three 3-pointers and scored on a lay-up after a steal in the first four minutes of the game.
“They seemed to not respect my threes. I can shoot the ball, I shoot around 40 percent (on threes). I just take what the defense gives me,” he said.
When Columbus Grove called a timeout after falling behind 13-0, Powell said he and Botkins’ other coaches were telling the Trojans not to ease up with a big lead.
“I think it (the big opening run) made Columbus Grove press a little bit. They called a timeout and our coaches told our players we made our first run but they’re going to come back with a run and this game is going to be determined by how we stop their run,” Powell said.
“Going up 16-0 it’s easy to take your foot off the gas. Columbus Grove, those kids are going to fight. As soon as you let up on the gas they’re going to come back. So we just wanted to keep the pressure on.”
Botkins’ size, with the two Pleimans and 6-5 Denton Homan, was also a game changer.
The Trojans had a 33-24 rebounding edge and presented a big challenge defensively when the Bulldogs got the ball inside.
“They’ve got guys who can protect the rim so they can stay out on shooters,” Sautter said.
Reynolds and Birnesser were four-year starters and Clement was a three-year starter. In the last three seasons Columbus Grove has had a combined record of 70-9, won two outright Northwest Conference championships and shared another, played in three regionals and was a state runner-up.
“It’s the best group of seniors that I’ve been around. Blake and Tayt became starters as freshmen. When they were freshmen we beat a very good 17- or 18-win North Baltimore team in the sectional final, which kind of gave them a taste of cutting down a net and being successful in the tournament,” Sautter said.
“Then to turn around and make three straight regional appearances and going undefeated last year and to give themselves a chance to play for a state title today, what do you say about this group? I’m definitely going to miss them. The whole program is going to miss them and everything they’ve done for the school. They’ve definitely set the stage for something that can be successful for many, many years to come.”
Powell is a 1999 Shawnee graduate who played on a regional runner-up team as a senior which lost by one point in the regional championship game. He also was an assistant coach at Perry when the Commodores were a Division IV state semifinalist.
He has a 54-22 record in three seasons at Botkins. Botkins finished fifth in the Shelby County League his first season, third in his second year and tied for first this season. It had losing records 10 of the 11 seasons before he arrived and finished higher than fifth in the league only once in that time frame.
“This is just a start,” he said. “We want to build a program that is based on winning. And whenever people say Botkins I want them to think of winning. These guys were the first ones but there were a lot of little kids out there that have Botkins on their chest and they’re next. As soon as we get back, I’ve got 28 days where I have to stay away from my boys and on that 29th day we’ll be right back in the weight room.”