PIQUA — Botkins’ senior class had success through its middle schools years and has helped the high school program have success each of the last four years.
One opponent consistently put a stop to that success: Fort Loramie.
“Always at the end of tournament, we got our butt kicked by Loramie,” Botkins senior guard Zane Paul said.
The Redskins’ physical defense often roughed up the Trojans. That happened again on Friday, as Paul could attest with a bag of ice on his right knee shortly after leaving the locker room.
But while Fort Loramie was able to rough up Botkins again, it wasn’t able to stop the party this year.
Botkins pulled away late to beat Fort Loramie 45-38 in a Division IV district semifinal on Friday at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium. The victory earns the program its first district final berth since 2001.
“This feels good,” Paul, who scored 10 points, said. “It always came down to the finals or semifinals and we’d get our butts kicked, so it feels good to get one.
“… We’re all passionate about basketball. We’ve all been playing since we were real little, so I think we’ve just bonded this year and figured it out.”
The Trojans (22-3) lost to Fort Loramie 49-35 in a district semifinal last season after splitting in regular-season play. The teams split their two Shelby County Athletic League matchups this season as well. Botkins won the first matchup 44-37 while Fort Loramie won the second 49-40.
“We weren’t losing for a second (time),” Paul said. “We prepared really hard for these guys. They get in their offense real well. Coach (Corey) Britton has a great group of guys, and they know how to play. I think we just wanted it more tonight.”
The Trojans will face the winner of Fayetteville Perry vs. Ripley Union-Lewis in a district final next Saturday at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center. Those two squads are scheduled to play in a semifinal on Saturday at Taylor High School.
Botkins and Fort Loramie traded baskets early on Friday but the Trojans scored seven straight points to take an 11-4 lead. Paul hit a 3-pointer and made two foul shots during the run.
Caleb Maurer hit a half-court shot off the glass at the buzzer to cut the gap to 11-7 heading into the second, which helped give the Redskins momentum.
“We got off to a bad start and missed four or five cheap ones at the beginning of the game,” Britton said. “We had shots right at the rim, and we just couldn’t get them to go down. We sort of played from behind the whole night and never could get on top.
“Caleb hit that shot and I thought we were going to be all right. We were within striking distance all night, but we just could never get over the top and come down the hill.”
The Redskins started the second with a 10-6 run to tie it 16-16, but Carter Pleiman completed a three-point play to give the squad a three-point lead. Caeleb Meyer split a pair of free throws in the final minute to cut the gap to 19-17 at halftime.
Botkins pushed its lead to five points in the third quarter before Fort Loramie pulled even. After Denton Homan hit a late foul shot to break the tie, Jacob Pleiman made a put-back after a miss by Jayden Priddy-Powell at the buzzer to extend the lead to 29-26 heading into the fourth.
“That was a momentum switch,” Botkins coach Sean Powell said. “To end the quarter like that, it was tremendous. We took that momentum into the fourth quarter and made the plays we needed to win the game.”
Fort Loramie pulled within 31-30 early in the fourth, but Paul hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to four, and the Trojans pulled away further in the last couple of minutes at the free-throw line.
“Loramie has a great program and we knew those boys were going to come in and give us their all,” Powell said. “We were well-prepared for them. That paid off there at the end. A lot of their sets, we were familiar with. Our boys did a great job of playing their roles, doing their jobs defensively and ending with a rebound.”
Paul and Priddy-Powell each scored 10 points. Jacob Pleiman and Homan each scored nine.
Powell credited his assistant coaches for helping him over the previous two weeks to prepare the squad for Friday’s showdown.
“It was a collective effort,” Powell said. “Even the girls varsity coach (Phil Groves) came in and gave us his two cents. It paid off tonight.”
Powell and Paul both credited the vocal Botkins crowd, which numbered about 250.
“They sounded like they were a sellout crowd,” Powell said.
Grant Albers led Fort Loramie with 16 points while Maurer finished with nine.
The Redskins finish 16-8 overall and will lose seven seniors to graduation, including Meyer, who was a first team all-SCAL selection. The squad will also lose Albers, Nolan Berning, Collin Moore, Devin Ratermann, Nate Meyer and Isaac Maurer.
“Our seven seniors have been absolutely incredible,” Britton said. “They’ve won over 50 basketball games, they’ve won two district championships. They’re just outstanding young men. The winning basketball games are awesome, but the men they have become and the people they will be in our community and how they will be as fathers is incredible.
“Not one person has ever left an event we’ve been at without saying please and thank you. Everyone is very mannered, and that comes from our community and parents. They do a great job of raising them. They’ll be missed. It’s been a great group to be around.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.