BOTKINS — Botkins and Fort Loramie were off to two of the hottest starts in Shelby County Athletic League. The Trojans’ start stayed hotter on Tuesday.
Botkins stayed undefeated with a dominating 48-30 victory at the Coliseum and kept pace with Russia atop SCAL standings. Both squads are 3-0 in league play, while Fort Loramie (5-2) dropped to 3-2 in SCAL games.
Botkins (5-0) has continued its success early this season from last year’s 27-3 campaign, which was capped last March with the Division IV state title.
The Trojans lost six players to graduation off last year’s team, including three guards who started in the D-IV title game. But with plenty of experience and height back, Botkins has kept up its strong defense. The squad has held opponents to an average of 32.6 points per game.
“We emphasize all year long playing good defense and ending every possession with a rebound. We did that tonight,” first-year coach Phil Groves said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re progressing. We just need to keep everybody healthy and continue the plan. We pride ourselves in our defense. …We just want to continue that.”
Brothers Jacob and Carter Pleiman have anchored the team. Both were starters last year. Jacob Pleiman, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, averaged 16 points and seven rebounds during regular season. Carter Pleiman, a 6-5 junior wing guard, averaged 10 points and five rebounds.
They’re far from the only tall players the Trojans have. Dylan Topp, a 6-4 senior forward, saw a lot of playing time last year. Senior newcomers Elijah Stewart (6-5) and Cole Steinke (6-4) and sophomore newcomer Jordan Herzog (6-3) have added depth as well.
“It’s a total collective effort. No single person stands out every night,” Groves said. “The Pleiman boys do the heavy lifting every night for us, but each one of our role players step in and perform their roles very well. …Dylan Topp, every single night he’s playing defense, he’s rebounding. He can finish around the basket.
Carter Pleiman helps the squad on the perimeter and takes the ball up the floor at times, but senior guards and returning letterwinners Jameson Meyer and Jaydon Wendel are stepping up and taking on larger roles. Meyer, a 3-point specialist, scored nine points on Tuesday.
“Everybody knew going in that we lost a bit to graduation, but I think the kids used that as a challenge,” Groves said. “Each one of them has had to add to their role from last year, and every one of them has done a good job at it.
“… We’re fortunate that we have three or four guys that can bring the ball up the floor. We have quite a bit of height. We can run five guys out there at one time with certain lineups that are over 6-3. We’re a versatile group, but the best thing is, the kids come to practice each day, and they work hard. Their work ethic is what inspires me as a coach.”
Groves was Botkins’ girls team’s head coach for three years before taking over the boys program last spring after former coach Sean Powell resigned to take a coaching job at Lima Bath.
Groves, who helped out the boys program last year, said it’s been a smooth transition.
“It was a tough decision to leave the girls program, but I’m always up for a challenge, and this was a challenge for me,” Groves said. “I’m glad to be a part of things here on the boys staff.”
Fort Loramie lost 36-22 to rival Russia in its season opener but had won five consecutive games before Tuesday, including wins over Anna (55-39) and New Bremen (57-41) last weekend.
The return of senior guard Caleb Maurer and the development of younger players had helped improve Fort Loramie’s offensive ability. However, eighth-year coach Corey Britton said Tuesday’s performance shows work remains.
“You saw their experience versus our inexperience,” Britton said. “… Any time we can play a game, we’re just going to get better from it. We’ve got to find positives from this. I thought in spurts, we defended all right. But every time it looked like we may make a run, they’d make a run.
“… We’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve played six games and had six practices in the last two weeks. We need some practice time, and we need some ways to get better.”
Maurer, a 6-0 junior guard and two-year letterwinner, is gaining strength after an injury late in football season. He’s one of two returning letterwinners.
“He’s learning a little bit of a new role than his first two years of varsity basketball,” Britton said. “His first two years of varsity basketball, he had some seniors to go along with him. This year, he’s got to be our leader. He’s getting better every day, just like the rest of us.”
Senior forward Lane Frilling (6-3) is the squad’s other returning letterwinner.
The Redskins are full of new players; early standout newcomers have been senior guard Ty Ruhenkamp (6-0), junior forward Logan Eilerman (6-3), junior guard Aiden Wehrman and junior forward Isaac Raterman, who all started along with Maurer on Tuesday.
“Ty is having a good run at it, but we need to find ways to be more consistent on both ends on the floor,” Britton said. “We’re struggling with consistency. We can only blame our youth for so long. We’ve played seven games now, so we need to start getting better and becoming more consistent.”
Fort Loramie got the opening tipoff, and Raterman made a layup to give the squad an early lead.
But Botkins’ zone defense held the Redskins scoreless for the next six minutes. The Trojans built a 9-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, then used a 12-7 scoring edge in the second to take a 21-11 halftime lead.
Botkins finished with a 13-6 edge in the fourth quarter and 14-13 edge in the fourth.
Jacob Pleiman led Botkins with 20 points while Carter Pleiman scored 10.
Maurer led Fort Loramie with 11 points while Ruhenkamp scored eight.
Botkins is scheduled to travel to winless Houston for an SCAL game on Friday and travel to Centerville on Sunday afternoon to play undefeated Springfield Shawnee in an invitational tournament.
Fort Loramie is scheduled to travel to Versailles on Saturday. The game will be played in Versailles’ old gymnasium.