If their showing without four players on Wednesday was any indication, the Yellow Jackets will have plenty of depth to aid in that goal.
Sidney ran away in the fourth quarter to beat Fairborn 68-58 in an MVL Valley Division game in its season opener. The squad was without four players, who were all quarantining due to COVID-19 exposure.
“What I stressed to the players was it doesn’t matter who we play, who’s playing for us, and who were playing against. We’re going to battle as hard as we can,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “That’s the attitude we’ve got to have.
“That’s the way I’ve been coaching my whole entire career. We’re going to take on anybody with who we have and play as hard as we can.”
Sidney has five returning letterwinners from last season’s 19-5 campaign — but was without three of them on Wednesday. The lone two returning letterwinners on the court on Wednesday led the charge.
Senior guard Camden Vordemark scored a career-high 29 points while senior guard Cedric Johnson scored a career-high 15. Both played off the bench last season; Vordemark averaged 5.3 points per game while Johnson averaged 2.5.
“They played big minutes in big games last year for us, so I wasn’t worried about that,” Willoughby, who is entering his fifth year at Sidney after spending the previous 30 years at Houston, said. “They played exceptional with a lot of energy and a lot of effort.”
The scoring from the two returning guards was needed, especially since junior guard Devin Taborn was one of three starters who wasn’t in attendance on Friday. Taborn averaged 8.4 points per game last season and is the team’s leading returning scorer.
“He’s a scorer; there’s no doubt about that,” Willoughby said of Taborn. “We’re looking forward to continued growth as a player from him. There’s more to the game than scoring, so we’re looking for him to grow his game that way. He’s doing a lot better at it.
“He can shoot the ball lights out. With him, we’ve got that third or fourth guard that’s going to be able to score for us.”
Sidney was also without its two starting post players on Wednesday. Senior 6-foot-3 forward Avante Martin averaged 6.7 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game last season while junior 6-2 forward Jaden Swiger averaged 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
It was a team effort by Sidney in the post without those two players. Senior forwards Deegan Meyer and Isaiah Huggins and sophomore forward Sam Reynolds helped lead the charge, but Vordemark, Johnson and the rest of the squad’s guards were just as active in the post offensively and defensively.
“I thought we battled as much as we could,” Willoughby said of the rebounding battle. “I think we stayed even, hopefully, on the boards. That could be a challenge for us a lot all year even when (Martin and Swiger) are here because we don’t have a lot of height. But I liked the way the guys battled (for rebounds) all night. We’ll need to continue that.”
Vordemark particularly helped the squad offensively in the post. Almost all of his points came on drives, and he was also able to draw several fouls. Fairborn committed 24 total fouls in the game, and Sidney made 18-of-28 resulting free-throw attempts.
Meyer is a first-year varsity player and added six points. He was also very active on defense for the Yellow Jackets, which Willoughby praised.
Meyer joined the program for the first time last year but tore the ACL in his right knee.
“He missed all of last year, and I’m glad that he got big minutes in his first game,” Willoughby said. “When we have everybody here, he’s our eighth or ninth man. So he did a great job tonight in a large role.
“We talked tonight about how you get the trust of a coach to earn more playing time, which is work your butt off and do what you’re supposed to do, which is what he did tonight. He battled and battled, a lot of it out of his position and out of his comfort zone.”
Senior guard Ryan Schloss, who was a star on the program’s JV squad last year, added six points. Huggins, who was another JV star last year, also scored six points.
Those three are key newcomers this season to the team this year, as is senior guard Darrius Basil, who was absent Wednesday due to being quarantined.
Without Basil, Taborn, Martin and Swiger, junior forward Landon Davis and Reynolds were called up from junior varsity to help out on Wednesday. Reynolds played in parts of all four quarters while Davis played in parts of three.
“I’m really proud of the way they played,” Willoughby said. “They fought the whole time they were in there.”
Fairborn finished 1-22 last year but returns almost all of its varsity players, including its top five scorers.
While Sidney built several double-digit leads in the first three quarters, the Skyhawks were always able to battle back with 3-pointers. They hit 11-of-23 of their 3-point attempts in the game.
The Yellow Jackets clamped down defensively in the second half and held Fairborn to four 3’s. The Skyhawks also had the bulk of their 19 turnovers in the second half.
“We gave up more 3s than we should have, but overall with this being a lot of guys’ first time out there, I was pleased with how we defended them,” Willoughby said. “That was one of our points of emphasis at halftime, to defend the 3 better.”
Sidney led 23-16 at the end of the first quarter and boosted its lead to 30-20 with five minutes left in the second but the Skyhawks finished on an 18-10 run to pull within 40-38 at halftime.
Fairborn pulled within 49-48 late in the third quarter and trailed 51-49 heading into the fourth, but the Yellow Jackets started the fourth on an 11-4 run, which Vordemark capped off with a steal and a layup with three minutes left.
The Yellow Jackets pushed their lead to as many as 13 points late in the game.
Like in every aspect of life, Sidney’s season will look different as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The school is currently only allowing parents of participants to attend following a request from Gov. Mike DeWine to all schools in the state last week to do so.
In addition, the squad and all the school’s winter sports squads will be playing only MVL opponents during regular season. MVL schools also played only league games during regular season during the fall.
With the team’s returnees and depth, Willoughby is hopeful it can compete for another MVL title despite the loss of four key players off last season’s squad to graduation, including leading scorers Darren Taborn and Dominick Durr.
Several MVL schools return almost all their entire varsity rosters — including West Carrollton, which finished 17-7 last year. The Pirates also have a key newcomer in Dayton Stivers transfer Allen Lattiemore, who scored 18 points for the Tigers in a 71-63 regional semifinal win over Anna last March.
Sidney’s lone scrimmages were against MVL foes Vandalia-Butler and Tippecanoe.
“We’re going to be competitive,” Willoughby said. “I think the league, both the (Miami) and (Valley) divisions, have good teams. I hope we’re one of them at the end.”
The MVL has a new scheduling format for the season as well. Schools’ freshman and JV teams will play on Tuesday and Saturdays, while the same schools’ varsity teams will face off the following Wednesday and preceding Friday, respectively.
“That is going to help during this time when you don’t know who you’re going to have on a given week,” Willoughby said. “With those guys playing on separate nights, we can play them full games on Wednesdays and Fridays for us.
“Who knows who is going to be available and when they’re going to be available this year, so we’re trying to coach all of them to get them ready to play (varsity).”
Sidney is scheduled to host archrival Piqua on Friday. The Indians lost their season opener 46-34 to Butler on Wednesday.
Willoughby said he expects Martin and Basil to return to the court for Friday’s game.
“All these guys that dressed tonight will dress Friday just in case,” Willoughby said. “Even if (Martin and Basil) are here, when you miss over a week of practice, it can be tough to jump right back into a game. But we’d definitely need them against Piqua.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.