KETTERING — The matchup every follower of Division IV basketball in Southwest Ohio has been anticipating is set.
Botkins ran away early from Springfield Catholic Central in a regional semifinal on Tuesday at Trent Arena in Kettering and won 60-46 to set up a rematch between two of the top small-school teams in the state.
The Trojans (25-2) will face Tri-Village (24-3) in a regional final on Friday in Kettering. The Patriots beat East Knox 60-38 in the first regional semifinal on Tuesday in Kettering to advance.
“Every game, from now on, is going to be a tough battle,” Botkins junior guard/forward Carter Pleiman said. “… It takes a lot of grit. It’s going to be a tough battle from now on, and everything’s going to be physical. You’re not going to get a lot of calls. It’s all about grit.”
Botkins, the defending D-IV state champs, returned two starters and a host of key bench players from last season. The Patriots, which advanced to regionals last year, returned every player from a 26-1 campaign.
The two squads were easy picks to be regional finalists in Southwest Ohio this year. Now, they’ll face off for a state berth.
It’s the second time in two months the squads have played at Trent Arena. Botkins, which was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press state poll, beat the Patriots 51-50 in double overtime in a Flyin’ to the Hoop game on Jan. 16.
“It should be interesting,” Botkins coach Phil Groves said. “We were up (11) points, and they had a couple of run outs. We turned the ball over, had a couple of long rebounds that turned into transition points for them, and they cut the lead down to two or three, then eventually forced overtime.
“We focused after that game and talked about the offensive rebounds we allowed. I think we gave up like 11 offensive rebounds in that game. We take care of the ball a little bit better, get back in transition and rebound.
“I think our kids are confident. Tri-Village has gotten a lot better from the time we played them in Flyin’ to the Hoop. They’re one of the best teams and are in the regional final for a reason. Our kids just look forward to competing on Friday.”
Botkins, which plays four players 6-foot-3 or taller, dominated in the post on Tuesday against Catholic Central.
The Trojans had a 36-27 rebounding edge, held the poor-shooting Irish to eight offensive rebounds and blocked four shots.
Catholic Central junior forward Tyler Galluch (6-4) managed to best his season average with 20 points, but he had to work for each one of them. Galluch shot 8 for 23 (34.8 percent) from the floor and had four rebounds, three under his average.
“We have a really good scout team and scout really well, so we kind of knew their plays and what they like to do,” Pleiman, who is 6-5, said. “That really helps coming into a game like this. …It helps to be so long and tall like we are.”
The Fighting Irish (24-3) shot 18 for 53 (34 percent) from the floor while Botkins shot 22 for 47 (46.8 percent), including 6 for 12 from the 3-point line. The Trojans scored 32 points in the paint, compared to 22 by Catholic Central.
“We don’t want to pass up a good shot from the outside, but if we can get it inside, that’s always a plus,” Groves said. “… Defensively, we knew Galluch was going to get looks, could attack off the dribble and shoot the 3. We wanted to contain him as much as possible and make him work for everything he got.”
Botkins senior forward Jacob Pleiman and Tri-Village senior forward Layne Sarver were named Southwest district D-IV co-players of the year. Pleiman averages 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while Sarver averages 21 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals.
Both squads are deep and go well beyond their leading scorers.
Four other players aside from Jacob Pleiman average better than 5.5 points per game for Botkins, including Carter Pleiman, who averages nine points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
Six other players aside from Sarver average better than 5.5 points for the Patriots, which were ranked No. 5 in D-IV in the final state AP poll. Among them is senior forward Josh Scantland, who averages 9.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Both squads are tall. Botkins plays four players over 6-foot-3, including Jacob Pleiman (6-6) and Carter Pleiman. Sarver and Scantland are each 6-6 and start for Tri-Village, as does junior Justin Finkbine (6-5).
“It’ll be tough,” Groves said. “… Sarver is a prolific scorer. He can shoot. He can drive to the basket. We just have to be ready and give our best effort. If we can be ready and we can defend, we can compete. We look forward to the challenge.
Carter Pleiman defended Sarver in the Flyin’ to the Hoop matchup and held him to 11 points. He said Sarver, who played on the same AAU team with his older brother Jacob, will be hard to guard Friday.
“He’s phenomenal, and they’re phenomenal,” Pleiman said. “… The first time comes around playing a team like that, you get a sense of them. The second time, you know everything they’re going to do. It comes down to who makes the most shots, who executes the most plays, is going to win the regional.”
Jacob Pleiman led Botkins with 19 points and had seven rebounds on Tuesday.
Carter Pleiman added 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks. He started last season but has seen his role increase this year. Aside from playing in the post, he splits ball handling duties with guards Jameson Meyer and Jaydon Wendel.
“It’s hard to do, but my teammates make it easy for me,” Pleiman said. “They give me all the confidence in the world.”
Meyer added 11 points on Tuesday while Wendel scored nine and had four rebounds. Jordan Herzog (6-3) led the squad with 10 rebounds.
“I’m proud of the team effort tonight,” Groves said. “We have a bunch of kids that can step up any night. When they focus on Jacob in the post, they send doubles, we have open shooters on the perimeter as a result, and they stepped up and knocked down open shots when they needed to.”
The Trojans scored the first five points and led 15-10 at the end of the first quarter. The squads’ shooting cooled in the second, but Botkins used an 8-2 scoring edge to take a 23-12 halftime lead.
Consecutive 3s by Wendel and Meyer pushed the advantage to 33-17 midway through the third, and Botkins pushed its lead to 42-23 heading into the fourth.
The Trojans pushed the lead over 20, but Catholic Central went on a 15-6 run to pull within 55-46 with 1:28 left. Botkins secured the win from the free-throw line after that.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.