BOTKINS — Botkins has been practicing far longer than Marion Local. But in terms of experience, the teams are about even.
After falling to 2-2 last week, the Trojans adjusted their starting lineup and offensive schemes and are trying to redouble their efforts on defense.
The changes have helped. Botkins has won its last three games, including a 45-35 victory over the Flyers on Monday in a home nonconference game. It was the third game in four days for the Marion Local (0-3), which had a late start to the season due to another state championship run by the school’s football team.
“We changed a lot of what we were doing at the start of the season,” Botkins coach Sean Powell said. “Essentially, we missed out on five weeks’ worth of drills and understanding the concept due to the changes.”
Botkins (5-2, 2-1 Shelby County Athletic League) edged out Parkway and Fairlawn for wins in its first four games and lost by 10 or more points to rebuilding Minster and Russia programs.
The lackluster start caused Powell and the coaching staff to opt for some new looks.
“I told the boys after tonight that it’s really Week 2 for us, because we’re starting all over with what we’re doing,” Powell said. “It was tough to make the decision, but I didn’t see smiles on the kids faces (before the change). They weren’t happy with what we were doing.”
Powell said the early problems were partly due to not executing its full-court pressure defense well.
“It’s crazy that I’d say this, but our inconsistency on offense is due to our defense,” Powell said. “Our first four or five games, we weren’t pressuring the ball like we did (last season). We were letting teams swing the basketball and it kept us on the defensive end longer than we like.
“We just decided to change that, get up on them, force them to the baseline and set a trap. When you let kids play free, they’re at they’re best. I think we’re playing at our best offensively now because of what we’re doing defensively.”
The Trojans’ starting lineup was adjusted as well. Junior guards Denton Homan, Jayden Priddy-Powell and Zane Paul and sophomore post Jacob Pleiman retained their starting spots while junior guard Tyler Free was replaced by senior guard Elliott Goubeaux.
“He’s been going through a lot of adversity,” Powell said of Free. “(His grandmother died) a couple of weeks ago, and to add to that this week, I went to him and took him out of the starting lineup.
“Some kids don’t respond to that. It was an adjustment not based on him but based on our team. We thought it would strengthen our bench. He’s done nothing but respond to it.”
Free led the Trojans with 15 points on Monday, 12 of which came in the first half. It’s the third consecutive game he’s scored at least 15. Priddy-Powell (Powell’s son) added 13 points.
Free made a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:10 left in the first quarter to put Botkins ahead 14-4, but Marion Local battled back.
Alex Eyink made a basket with 4:44 left in the second to cap off an 11-1 run and tie it 15-15. The Flyers later took the lead twice, but Botkins battled back to take control by halftime.
After Brady Ronnebaum made a basket to put Marion Local ahead 21-20 with 2:27 left, Priddy-Powell made a basket with 1:50 left and then closed the half with a 3 from the left corner to put the Trojans ahead 25-21.
“We felt like we were giving up some layups (in the first half),” Powell said. “We felt like our half-court defense was solid. We still wanted to play full-court, but we wanted to ease up on the pressure a little bit so we didn’t give up easy buckets.”
That change worked, as Marion Local hit just three field goals in the second half — all of which were 3-pointers.
Neither team made a field goal after Marion Local’s Bryce Moeller hit a 3 with 3:55 left to close the gap to 37-34. Zane Paul answered over a minute later with his first two of six free throws in the fourth to increase the lead to five points. He added four more in the last 30 seconds and Priddy-Powell also hit a pair in the final minute to extend the final margin.
The Trojans hit 9-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“All season, we’ve been hitting free throws,” Powell said. “It’s probably the only thing we’ve been doing consistently on the positive side of things. We knew down the stretch that Marion Local wasn’t going to give up and come after us. The only thing I told my kids was to rebound, take care of the basketball and take quality shots to get to the free-throw line.”
Powell said he was happy to see the team’s resiliency after Marion Local took the lead in the second quarter. He said that’s a big change from early in the season.
“Just getting up what we got up, we knew they were going to battle back,” Powell said. “Marion makes it a physical game. But our kids battled.”
The Trojans will see another physical opponent on Friday when they travel to Jackson Center (5-0, 3-0) for a Shelby County Athletic League showdown.
“From what it looks like, they’re probably the best team in the area,” Powell said. “Strong, well-coached and disciplined. You can’t say enough about them.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.