MILLER CITY – 2005.
That was the last time the Miller City girls basketball team had won or shared a Putnam County League title and the Wildcats, through hard work that began before the season, have put themselves in a position to do snare a league crown this year.
With the final month remaining, Miller City is 4-1 with two games left in the PCL and tied with Columbus Grove (4-1) and Leipsic (2-1). Overall the Wildcats are 12-3.
But Miller City head coach Ross Heuerman is not focused on a league crown but the next game as his team enters a tough, arduous stretch of games to close out the year.
It might be somewhat of a surprise to see Miller City with this success, Despite coming off a 15-9 year, the Wildcats lost five seniors and Abi Lammers was the lone senior coming back on a squad with not much varsity experience. In addition to Lammersback, the Wildcats returned a host of juniors, Grace Pfau, Tori Wenzinger, Kiana Gable, Liz Otto and Carley Hermiller. Also in the mix was junior Nicolette Inkrott and sophomores Ava Ruck and Isabel Reyna.
Heuerman said he felt comfortable coming into the season but knew this team had some question marks.
“We had a couple of girls that played some last year but not a lot of girls with a whole lot of experience but a lot of those girls had good junior varsity minutes and some came up and played varsity,” Heuerman said. “We were really focused on our defense over the summer and being more aggressive in that aspect and trying to transition into a quicker offense and just focusing on good shot selection on offense.
One of the questions marks for Heuerman was not whether the team could compete because he knew they were quick and athletic but the team’s overall size and how fast could they get accustomed to playing at the varsity level.
Heuerman adds that these girls have come along pretty quick through hard work and dedication. He also attributes some of that to the leadership and play of Lammers who he said leads by example and displays that both on and off the court.
“She (Lammers) is a phenomenal leader,” Heuerman said. “You won’t find a harder working kid than Abi. She really doesn’t care about stats. She didn’t know how close she was to getting 1,000 points (this year) until two days before because she didn’t want to know. She didn’t care. She would tell the girls on the team not to tell her because she wanted to focus on winning.
“She does the little the things like rebounding and stealing the ball and working on the defensive side. The younger girls believe in that and follow her but she is just an all around fantastic leader for us. I would say she is more of a lead by example player. She will definitely speak when the time is right but she is more of a ‘I’m going to show you how it is done, and you are going to do the same thing’ type girl.”
After opening the year with a loss to Tinora, the Wildcats went on an 8-game losing streak, before falling to Delphos Jefferson, 44-42. This was followed by four straight win that was halted by another two-point loss, to PCL foe Kalida, 33-31.
It should be pointed out that Miller City’s combined total of 11 points separates the Wildcats from an unblemished record.
“We have just been focusing on our defense and defensive rotation this year,” Heuerman said. “We spent a lot more time on it and being able to rebound out of our defense and creating transition offense and creating points on the offensive side but really it comes down to playing really well on the defensive end and are only giving up about 33 points a game and that has lead to some offense and add rebounding to that and that has propelled us to a lot of our wins.”
The Wildcats are giving up an average of 33.6 points a game. In eight of those games, Miller City has limited the opposition to under 40 points.
Heuerman points to two sophomores, Ruck and Reyna for providing valuable minutes on the defensive end when called upon.
Offensively, Lammers, who joined the 1,000 point club this season, leads the team in scoring, averaging around 20 points a contest, and Carley Hermiller has also been contributing on the offensive end and is second on the team in scoring and tops in 3-pointers made with 20.
“The girls that we have can all bring something different so we can count on them at different times throughout the game to make different plays,” Heuerman said. “I think that has kind of set the tone for the entire season at this point.”
Perhaps one of the biggest wins and confidence boosters came when Miller City beat Columbus Grove. Last season, the Bulldogs downed the Wildcats twice.
“We were down at the half,” Heuerman said. “They beat us twice last year in double overtime the first time and the second game was a tournament game where we led at the half and I believe we also led at the end of the third quarter we just had a couple of miscues and a couple of turnovers in that game so we knew it was going to be a tough one so we made a few adjustments at halftime and hit a couple of big shots in the third quarter and then our defense stepped up in the fourth quarter and the girls just played from confidence from there. That was a huge win for us. I was very proud of the girls for that one.”
Even though the wins have come, Heuerman understands this team has still room for improvement and teams are gunning for them. That happened when Kalida bumped off Miller City to hand the Wildcats their first PCL loss Jan. 22.
Heuerman admits the team did not play well in the first half, played better in the second half, but could not overcome the defeat
“It was kind of a wake-up call for us,” Heuerman said. “There is still things we need to work on and still things we need to get better at. We are going to get everybody’s best shot each night and we need to get better at practice and continue working hard.”
Miller City ends the season with a number of games as the Wildcats play five games fron Saturday to Saturday.
“Our focus is to keep getting ready and keep treating it like it is the next team in the tournament game and we know the teams in our district that we are going to play in sectionals and in the tournament are very good teams so we don’t want to take any days off and take any steps backwards because we don’t want to hurt us down the road.”