SIDNEY — Sidney has flipped its season trajectory from last year to this year, and the Yellow Jackets are hoping that flip goes into the postseason as well.
The Yellow Jackets started out 13-3 overall and 10-0 in Greater Western Ohio Conference American League play last season, with their last win in that stretch coming over state-ranked Trotwood-Madison.
The hot start didn’t last in the final third of the schedule. Sidney lost by 11 points to Tippecanoe four days after the Trotwood win and finished 18-6 after a five-point loss to Springboro in a sectional semifinal.
The Yellow Jackets dropped to 7-5 after an 11-point loss to Centerville on Jan. 16 to cap off a disappointing start to this season. They’ve won eight of their last nine games, however, including a 36-34 win over Vandalia-Butler on Tuesday.
The win over the Aviators likely earned the team a share of the GWOC American North title. Sidney can clinch at least a share of the title on Friday against Greenville.
“It’s kind of vice-versa of last year,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “We got off to a great start, won the league real early and kind of coasted to the end of the season. This year, we didn’t start off real strong. We had to play a couple of kids that probably weren’t ready to play varsity.”
Among the players Willoughby said have improved are junior guard Keith Lee, sophomore guard Darren Taborn and sophomore forward Trey Werntz.
“They’ve grown; our substitutes have grown,” Willoughby said. “What’s made us a better is our subs. Our subs are getting better, getting a lot more confidence. They’re getting used to what needs to be done. That’s why we’re a better team in the second half of the year. Hopefully, we’re going strong at the end of the year instead of coasting at the end of the year.”
Butler can’t contradict that claim after Tuesday’s game, which saw the Yellow Jackets post their best defensive performance of the year.
The Aviators had scored at least 40 points in every other game. Outside of a 65-35 win over winless West Carrollton on Jan. 5, Sidney hadn’t held anyone under 40 points.
Butler averages 58.7 points per game and beat Sidney 58-51 on Dec. 19.
“I’m so proud of the way these guys played defense tonight,” Willoughby said. “… We focused in defensively for the entire game. I don’t know if there was a second that ran off on our defensive possessions where we weren’t where we’re supposed to be and we weren’t covering where we were supposed to be covering.”
Butler led 2-1 after the first quarter, which saw both squads struggle against each other’s zone defense. Sidney led 14-9 at halftime, and things picked up in the second half.
The score was tied 23-23 at the end of the third quarter, and the teams exchanged leads six times and tied twice.
With the score tied 34-34, Sidney took the ball down court and called a timeout with 15 seconds left.
After the timeout, junior guard Andre Gordon drove around the right wing, penetrated inside from the top of the key and threw a bullet pass to Ratez Roberts, who laid a shot off the glass.
“I had my man sitting under the basket,” Gordon said of passing to Roberts. “It’s just practice, that’s what we do.”
Devan Rogers led Sidney with 10 points while Roberts finished with eight and Gordon finished with seven.
Gordon, who is being recruited by over a dozen Division I universities as a point guard, added seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“We talk to college coaches all the time and they want to know if he can manage the game,” Willoughby said. “I tell them all the time that he’s not just a scorer. He can score; he can shoot. Great defender. But he knows the game and he manages the game. He’s a willing and capable passer.
“Tonight, even though he scored seven points, I thought he was in control of the game. I think that’s why he’s the best player in this league.”
Roberts and Rogers each had eight rebounds. Roberts also led all players with three blocks.
“Just his presence on the jump shots, that’s got to be a little scary for high school kids, seeing Ratez coming out you,” Willoughby said. “I give a lot of credit to Devan as well. We had to take him out of the game in the fourth quarter because of defensive matchups. They brought in four guards, and we tried to keep him in there, but they were getting to the lane on us and we had to take him out because of that. He was a great teammate on the bench, helping us and talking to his teammates.”
Tuesday’s game was played in front one of the biggest crowds Butler administrators say they’ve seen in recent years. The 4,000-seat Student Activities Center was about half full.
It’s the kind of environment Sidney could be play in front of often as the tournament starts later this month, and Tuesday’s defensive effort is likely the kind that will be needed for a long postseason run. The Yellow Jackets are the No. 8 seed in the Dayton Division I sectional and will open tournament play against GWOC North rival Troy on Feb. 23.
“We’ve got to build off of this and keeping going,” Roberts said.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.