CENTERVILLE — Sidney struggled through the second half of regular season and is embracing the fresh start postseason play provides.
And in doing so, the Yellow Jackets were able to do something they didn’t during last year’s 18-win campaign.
The Yellow Jackets controlled most of the game and held off Miami Valley League rival Vandalia-Butler’s comeback attempts to win a Division I sectional opener on Wednesday at Centerville High School.
It’s the second consecutive win for Sidney (9-14), which had lost nine in a row after a 7-5 start.
One of losses came on the Yellow Jackets’ home court on Jan. 24, when Butler rallied in the second half and won 71-65 in double overtime.
“They came out of nowhere in double OT, took us out,” Sidney senior forward Sam Reynolds said. “It’s amazing to come out and kick them out of the tournament.”
Reynolds hit 8-of-14 shots and scored a game-high 28 points, which matches a career-high. He also had three steals, three rebounds and one block.
“This is everything for us, especially us seniors,” Reynolds said. “I’ve got to leave it all on the court. I want to go to college and do this, so I’ve got to leave it all there.”
It was a solid effort all around for the Yellow Jackets. Sidney shot 18 for 34 (52.9 percent) from the floor and had 22 rebounds, eight steals and seven blocks (including five by junior forward Mitchell Davis).
“This is the way we have been wanting to play,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “They were great. Everyone was engaged with one another. I thought we played pretty good basketball. Our defense was outstanding.
“Sam came out and played well, Myles (Vordemark) came out and played well. I thought we got a big boost from our bench with Jayce (Daniel) and Ethan (New). That’s what you need.
“Our main thing was to know our assignments defensively, stick to those, and if we can take certain things away from them, we’re going to be all right. I thought we did an excellent job of executing our defensive plan.”
Vordemark, a senior guard, hit 6-of-9 shots and finished with 13 points. Sophomore forward Julius Spradling hit 3-of-5 shots and scored 10 points.
Willoughby said he was pleased with the squad’s shot selection.
“Probably the last two weeks, our offensive has been a lot more team-oriented,” Willoughby said. “I think we’re moving the ball well. We’re moving ourselves better, moving better as an individual without the ball better.”
The Yellow Jackets lost four seniors and two starters (both post players) off last year’s squad, which won the MVL title.
While Reynolds was one of three returning starters and four returning letterwinners, there were some struggles early in the season, especially against taller opponents.
But Sidney stayed above .500 through the first half of the season, then struggled after sophomore guard A’zon Steele, who transferred from Lehman Catholic, was lost for the second half of the season due to OHSAA transfer rules.
The squad won its first game without Steele, then lost nine in a row before finishing regular season with a 69-59 win at Greenville last Friday.
“We talked about there being three seasons in a season,” Willoughby said. “Up to Christmas is your first season, and we did pretty good. Second season is after Christmas, and we hit the bottom.
“Now it’s the tournament, your third season. And I thought our minds were right. We’ve been good in practice. Sam was really positive yesterday in practice, and we knew he was going to have a good game.
“We talk a lot about being in a good frame of mind and having a good attitude. If we’re in the right attitude about playing with each other, we’re pretty good.”
Aside from the victory being redemption for the Jan. 24 loss, Reynolds said it was also nice to earn a postseason win after the squad couldn’t hold on to a late lead and lost 54-53 on a buzzer-beater to Lebanon in a sectional opener last year.
And keeping cool was key on Wednesday, especially late.
Sidney dominated the third quarter and built a 38-29 lead. But Butler’s Dion Oliver hit a long 3 at the buzzer to cut the gap to six points, then the Aviators scored the first six points of the fourth to tie it.
“They were trying to get in our heads,” Reynolds said. “I told everybody, ‘Let them talk.’ We’ve got to focus, take them out.”
And Sidney did. Vordemark scored a basket to break the tie, and he and Spradling each made one more to help extend the lead. The Yellow Jackets then made 10 free throws down the stretch — including Reynolds hitting 7-of-8 foul shot attempts — to seal the win.
The Yellow Jackets, which were voted the No. 14 seed in the Dayton Division I sectional, advance to face No. 15 Monroe (10-13) in a sectional final this Wednesday at Butler’s Student Activity Center.
Monroe beat Xenia 64-57 in the first sectional semifinal on Wednesday in Centerville to advance. The squad is led by senior guard Drew Taylor, who ranks third in the Southwestern Buckeye League with an average of 17.7 points per game.
“Tonight was our first time (scouting) them,” Willoughby said. “We’re going to have to stop (Taylor) somehow. They are sound defensively, sound offensively and know where to go with the ball. We’re going to have to have another great defensive performance ourselves.”
The Aviators, which were the No. 12 seed, finish 11-12 overall. Oliver led the squad with 11 points.
Sidney scored the first six points, but Butler finished the first quarter strong and cut the gap to two points at 14-12 heading into the second.
The Aviators scored four straight points to take a 23-18 lead, but Sidney scored the last seven points of the second to take a 25-23 lead. The Yellow Jackets broke a 23-23 tie in the final seconds, when New intercepted a pass and threw the ball across half court to Spradling, who drove inside and passed back to Reynolds, who went up for an easy basket at the buzzer.