It was perhaps the easiest completed field goal of the afternoon. Oddly enough, it came at the contest’s most crucial moment. Four seconds remained in the game as the ball filtered through the net.
Marion Local’s Peyton Otte made a nifty back cut and slithered his way along the baseline with just a few ticks left in the fourth quarter as 6-foot-8 teammate Jack Knapke tossed him a splendid bounce pass.
Otte dropped in the uncontested layup to put down the defending state champion Botkins Trojans, 47-46.
Botkins, 8-1 after the tough luck loss, had its 22-game win string snapped. Marion Local rose to 5-1.
This game of high school basketball can be unkind at times. Botkins seemed to be in charge of the New Year’s Eve matinee for over one-half of the battle and led for nearly 31 of the 32 minutes. But the Trojans mustered only five buckets total in periods two and four and blew a nine-point lead in the last seven minutes of the game.
How, you say?
Well, Marion Local had everything to do with this final pendulum swing. Like clockwork, the Flyers cranked in six straight shots in the fourth period and hit a blistering 88 per cent. For the day, they swished in nearly 90 percent of their free throws. Their bench players tallied 19 points. Their size matched the height and strength of the Trojans.
Yet, Botkins maintained the upper hand most of the time. In a 15-point first quarter and an 18-point third quarter, Phil Groves’ club was excellent. As Jack Kramer noted on ScoresBroadcast.com, Botkins might have played its best basketball of the season for 16-18 minutes versus a deep, tall, and very good Flyers roster.
First team all-state candidate Jacob Pleiman buried 13 of his team-high 15 points during the first and third periods. The 6-6 Pleiman ripped the cords on a long triple, showed his mobility with a couple lengthy drives to the rim that began 20 feet out on the floor, and swiveled through the lane and lofted in a soft, left-hand hook.
Dylan Topp also sparkled for the Trojans. The 6-4 senior made a variety of shots in route to a six-field goal, 12-point afternoon.
Carter Pleiman, Jameson Meyer and Jaydon Wendel each contributed a couple baskets apiece. The trio combined for four three-pointers.
Tate Hess, a 6-2 junior, was the super sub for the Flyers. He drilled 12 points that included a clutch fourth quarter trifecta that quickly matched a Meyer three. The sophomore Knapke netted a basket in each period, including an inside goal on which he muscled Jacob Pleiman backward a few steps. Starter Jadyn Mescher, a 6-2 junior wing player, hoisted in a couple treys from behind the line.
Chris Hartings, a Marion Local 6-4 senior, stepped out to the arc in the fourth stanza and zipped in a line-drive three-pointer that rattled in the cylinder before eventually finding the net. Flyers fans might have been saying to themselves, “No, no, no,” and then, quickly, “yes, yes, yes,” as the Hartings’ laser decided to drop through.
“Parity” is an often used word by fans and coaches in describing high school basketball in the west central part of the state this season. As an example, last Thursday, St. Henry got past Marion Local, which previously upended powerhouse St. Mary’s after the Roughriders drubbed the Redskins.
However, time and time again, coaches have said lately that momentum shifts, match-ups on the court, gap-closing three-point shots, like the Hartings hoop, and, of course, made free throws at crunch time are evening out many games.
And no one better than the Trojans understand more clearly. They missed two fourth quarter foul shots, including a one-and-one, last Friday. The second empty trip to the stripe came with 35 seconds to go, allowing for Otte’s game-winner.
Plus, Botkins was unable to sustain its inspiring third quarter energy. Instead, Marion Local fueled its game over the closing several minutes.
The Flyers’ varsity win enabled the Mercer County club to take two of the three tilts played at BHS on December 31. Marion won the freshman game by a point before Botkins triumphed in the junior varsity contest.
Halftime of the JV game featured special recognition for Zane Paul, whose soccer jersey, displaying the number “107,” was hung on the gymnasium north wall. A two-time, first team, all-state soccer performer, Paul racked up over 100 goals during his Botkins career. The outstanding basketball guard was a member of the boys Division IV state championship squad last March.
ScoresBroadcast.com and WMVR, 105.5 TAM FM, covered Friday’s varsity clash and spent time on the air with Paul, who is currently majoring in exercise science at Heidelberg. He plays the striker position for the university’s soccer team.
Paul’s jersey was placed to the right of the already-hung volleyball uniform recognizing the “1310” kills hammered home by Tricia Dietz Mullen during her career at Botkins. She graduated from BHS in 2008 and played volleyball at Duquesne.
Botkins fans, who paid tribute to Paul with a couple lengthy ovations, might have dreamed later of a better ending to last Friday’s basketball contest…
“A last second, length-of-the-court, drop kick by Paul that is well-placed right on goal and serves as a perfect assist for a slam-dunk spike through the net by Mullen.”
This duo was really special and will continue to give Botkins fans and the region’s sports community great memories for many years to come.