BOTKINS — Botkins’ boys basketball squad has been a popular sleeper pick among Shelby County Athletic League coaches the last two years. While the Trojans had some success each year, they had slow starts in SCAL play and never challenged for the league title.
Botkins is no one’s sleeper pick this year — instead, they’re the popular pick for favorite.
The Trojans have almost all of last year’s roster back and continued their hot start to the season by grinding out a 56-52 victory over previously undefeated Minster on Tuesday.
It capped off a big five-day stretch for Botkins (4-0, 2-0 SCAL), which beat Marion Local 42-30 in a nonconference game on Saturday and defending SCAL champ Anna 63-47 on Friday.
“That’s a good place to be and where we want to be at,” third-year coach Sean Powell said of the 4-0 start. “But there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. We can get better. We’re playing sloppy right now. We’ll go back to practice and drill some things and continue to work and try to go 5-0.”
Minster (2-1, 1-0 Midwest Athletic Conference) started the season with a 63-27 win over Spencerville on Nov. 28 and beat Versailles 51-39 on Friday. While fifth-year coach Michael McClurg was disappointed with the squad’s defensive effort and outside shooting on Tuesday, he said the team has great potential.
“The good part of tonight is it exposed a lot of stuff and hopefully we can get that fixed in the next few weeks,” McClurg said. “I feel decent. We’ve got some things to work on and hopefully as we do that, slowly but surely we’ll get there. That’s kind of our focus, to learn and grow.”
Botkins has all but two players back from last season’s 18-7 squad, which tied for third in the Shelby County Athletic League. The squad is without guard Elliott Goubeaux, who graduated, and guard Jaydon Wendel, who didn’t come out this season.
Among Botkins’ returnees are senior guard Jayden Priddy-Powell and junior center Jacob Pleiman. Powell, who is Sean Powell’s son, averaged 12.8 points per game last season. Pleiman, who is 6-foot-6, averaged 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Pleiman and Priddy-Powell are two of eight returning letterwinners. Also back is senior guard/forward Denton Homan, guards Jameson Meyer, Zane Paul and Tyler Free and forward Carter Pleiman. Paul is a three-year letterwinner while Homan, Jacob Pleiman and Priddy-Powell are two-year letterwinners.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with experience and we’ve got some guys stepping in from our JV team from last year,” Powell said. “I believe the JV only lost three games last year. They were led by Dylan Topp and Jameson Meyer, and they’re both playing well early. They’re coming in and giving me great minutes off the bench.
“… We’re definitely missing Elliott Goubeaux’s defensive presence. We have some holes in our press, but the young guys are coming along. Our bench is still strong, even though we miss Elliott’s presence.”
Powell said Jacob Pleiman has gotten stronger and is becoming more of a force in the post. He definitely was on Tuesday against the Wildcats.
The Trojans struggled shooting from the perimeter and finished 2 for 14 (14.3 percent) from behind the arc. With outside shots not falling, the team worked the ball inside to Pleiman more.
He was up for the challenge and scored a game-high 31 points. Despite having to contend with Minster’s Justin Nixon (6-5) and Johnny Nixon (6-4) in the post, Pleiman shot 11 for 17 (64.7 percent) from two-point range and also had 10 rebounds and three blocks.
“We saw in the first three or four minutes that tonight might not be the night for shooting,” Powell said. “I think we went 0 for 6 or 0 for 7 in the first nine or 10 possessions. Jacob Pleiman was shooting I think 86 percent from the field so far, so that’s a solid backup plan right there.
“We tried to get him the ball in the block in his comfort zone so he could go one-on-one. They showed in the first half they weren’t sending the double, I think because of our shooters on the perimeter. So if he has a single-man matchup, I think it’s a good idea to send him the ball.”
Minster finished 15-8 last year and lost most of its starters to graduation, including multiple-year varsity players Trent Roetgerman and Jacob Salazar.
Justin Nixon is the team’s only multiple-year veteran. Nixon, a senior, averaged 12.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last year and was a first team all-MAC selection.
Senior guard Eric Schmidt, senior forward Bryan Falk, senior guard Brady Hoelscher and senior guard Adam Ketner are also returning letterwinners after playing mostly off the bench last year. Falk started last year but broke his wrist in a scrimmage and won’t play for several more weeks.
Johnny Nixon, a junior, is seeing a lot of playing time early, as is senior guard Josh Niekamp.
“Development wise, I think we’re fine,” McClurg said. “You need to play some games. Our guys worked hard all offseason, they just weren’t able to play anybody (due to COVID-19 restrictions). I think the more games we play, the better we’re going to get.”
The teams traded leads several times throughout Tuesday’s matchup. The Trojans took control early in the first quarter but Minster finished on a run, which Niekamp capped off with a fast-break layup with two seconds left to give the squad a 10-8 lead.
Jacob Pleiman hit a 3-pointer and followed with a basket in the paint with 1:42 left in the second to give Botkins a 23-20 lead. Justin Nixon hit a late basket to pull the Wildcats within 26-25 at halftime.
Niekamp hit a basket with 31 seconds left in the third to give Minster a 38-36 lead, but the Trojans scored the first basket in the fourth to tie it.
The teams traded baskets until Pleiman hit a shot in the post with 5:34 left to put the Trojans ahead 45-43. The teams continued to trade baskets from there until Priddy-Powell made a pair of free throws with about a minute left to extend the lead to 54-50.
Brady Hoelscher made a basket on a drive with four seconds left. After two timeouts, Priddy-Powell was fouled on the inbounds pass and made two more free throws to again push the lead to four points.
The Trojans made 12-of-14 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter. Priddy-Powell made all six of his attempts.
“I have seniors in my back court,” Powell said. “Between Jayden Priddy and Zane Paul, they have eight years of varsity play. I expect them to make the right decisions. The last two, three minutes of the game, I saw Minster was in the bonus. So instead of just running offense, I figured I’d just put the ball in their hands and wait for the foul.”
Botkins has had strong stretches in the middle of each of the last two seasons but struggled toward the ends of both. They lost four of their last five games in 2018-19 and lost three of their last five last season, including two double-digit losses to Fort Loramie.
The Trojans are scheduled to travel to Fort Loramie on Friday.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Powell said. “We’ve had those good stretches and then died down toward the end and don’t want to do that. I think going one game at a time is the best way. We just want to pick up one win at a time and learn from our mistakes.”
Priddy-Powell finished with 14 points for the Trojans while Carter Pleiman scored eight. The Trojans shot 18 for 40 (45 percent) from the floor and 18 for 27 (67 percent) from the free-throw line.
Justin Nixon led Minster with 16 points and had six rebounds while Johnny Nixon scored 15 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds. Hoelscher added 11 points.
Minster shot 20 for 49 (40.8 percent) from the floor, including 4 for 17 (23.5 percent) from three-point range, and shot 8 for 11 (73 percent) from the free-throw line. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 25-23.
“We made some shots to keep us in it,” McClurg said. “They brought a lot of guys down on Justin. They’re going to be doubling Justin all year, and we’ve got to find ways to get other guys shots. I thought Johnny did a real nice job. We’ve got to find a way to make some other things happen.
“… But defensively, we weren’t very good tonight. I thought we guarded them pretty well to start, but we lost a few assignments, especially backside rebound checkouts. I think that got the most of us.”
Minster is slated to play at rival New Bremen on Friday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.