Crestview poised for state tournament

CONVOY – When former Crestview and Ohio State standout Doug Etzler returned to his high school alma mater to take over the Crestview boys basketball program, the opportunity came a little quicker than he expected.

Shortly after Crestview won the Division IV state title in 2019, longtime Crestview boys head coach Jeremy Best stepped away from coaching.

Etzler did not hesitate on pursuing a return to Crestview. He had been at Division I Teays Valley High School for 14 seasons.

Four years after returning to Crestview, Etzler has the Knights returning to the Division IV state tournament.

Crestview (24-3) will face Berlin Hiland (19-9) in a Division IV state semifinal Friday at the University of Dayton Arena with tip-off set for 5:15 p.m.

The winner of that state semifinal will take on the winner of the other state semifinal between Russia (25-3) and Richmond Heights (27-0) for the state championship on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Ironically, Berlin Hiland is the team that Crestview defeated in 2019 for the Division IV state title.

“It’s obviously special to have the opportunity to come back home,” Etzler said in reference to coming back to Crestview. “Coach (Jeremy) Best was here for 17 years and had great success. I thought he’d be here forever. But four years ago he retired and the job opened up. It’s very special coming back here.

“The tradition has been great. Coach Best brought it to another level by winning two state titles (2014, 2019). To be able to do this with this group of guys in this community is very special for me.”

Ray Etzler, Doug Etzler’s father, was the Crestview boys basketball head coach for 28 years, where he posted an impressive 445-171 record. The gymnasium at Crestview is named after the elder Etzler.

The Knights are coming off a dramatic 41-40 victory over Marion Local in a Division IV regional final.

Etzler is not surprised at how well this season has played out for his team.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Etzler said. “We had a lot of guys with experience coming back and then some younger guys who had great JV (junior varsity) seasons, last year. So, expectations were pretty high as far as what we thought we would be capable of doing.

“I’m just proud of the way they stayed together all year and played very unselfishly. We got things done in the tournament and played well enough to get to this point.”

Crestview has been very balanced in scoring this season.

Wren Sheets (6-foot-6, So., 10.4 points per game), Nate Lichtle (6-2, Sr., 10.2 ppg) and Gavin Etzler (6-3, Sr., 10 ppg) are scoring in double figures for the Knights. Mitch Temple (6-2, Sr.) is close behind, scoring 9.5 points per contest for Crestview.

Gavin Etzler, Coach Etzler’s son, is shooting 49 percent on 3-pointers. Lichtle is connecting on 47 percent of his shots from behind the 3-point line.

As a team, the Knights are scoring at a clip of 56.9 points per game. Defensively, Crestview is holding teams to an average of 43.4 points per outing.

Etzler feels like his team is solid at both ends of the court.

“I think the things we pride ourselves on this year is halfcourt man-to-man defense – pressure defense, keeping the ball out of the paint, and helping each other,” Etzler said. “Then, offensively, I think you’ll notice our unselfishness. We have around four guys getting around the same number of shots a game, and for the season, their averages are really close. They do a good job each game of finding the guy who is hot; and I think that makes us a little difficult to scout. I think our unselfishness stands out, offensively. And defensively, we play a pretty good version of a halfcourt man-to-man pressure defense.”

Berlin Hiland has been somewhat of a surprise this season.

“Not many people expected us to still be playing. We were 8-9 at one point and not playing good basketball,” Berlin Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids, and kids who hadn’t played a lot of minutes of varsity basketball.

“I think it just took us some time to figure some things out. We got lucky along the way, and we’ve scratched a few wins out lately in tournament time. I’m not sure how good we are. We’re still trying to get better, because we know we have a big task ahead of us on Friday.”

Schlabach said there are several challenges Crestview poses for his team.

“Offensively, they screen and move as well as any high school team I’ve seen in a long while. They’re balanced, offensively, and they don’t rely on just one guy or two guys. All five starters can score, and so can the guys they bring off the bench.

“They’re big. We’ve got a huge size disadvantage against them. And at the defensive end, they just don’t give up anything easy. They look like a team that has a lot of seniors, a lot of kids who have played together for a long time.”

Last week, Berlin Hiland came from behind to defeat Westerville Northside Christian in a regional final, 52-50. Alex Yoder led Berlin Hiland with 20 points. Teammates Sammy Detweiler (15) and Carson Habeger (10) also scored in double figures for Berlin Hiland.