A very large crowd packed the gym at Miami Trace High School Saturday night, Feb. 4 to watch the Panthers take on their rivals, the Washington Blue Lions, with no less than a conference championship at stake.
Both teams entered the game tied atop the Frontier Athletic Conference standings at 8-1.
The winner of the game would be the outright conference champions for the 2022-23 season.
When the teams met at Washington High School on Dec. 17, Washington came away with a 74-53 victory.
Though Saturday’s game featured a much lower score, it was the Blue Lions once again prevailing, posting a 51-28 victory over the Panthers.
Washington finishes as FAC champions with a record of 9-1. The Blue Lions are now 17-4 overall.
The Panthers finish alone in second place in the FAC at 8-2. Miami Trace is 16-4 overall.
The Blue Lions led from start to finish in this game.
It was 10-4 Washington at the end of the first quarter and 25-8 Blue Lions at the half.
Washington added on to its lead in the third quarter and went into the final period with a 46-19 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, with Miami Trace in a zone defense, the Blue Lions held the ball and ran at least two minutes of game time, maybe more, off the clock.
After a turnover and a Miami Trace missed shot attempt, the Blue Lions employed the same strategy, though for not as long a period of time.
The fourth quarter matched the first quarter in combined scoring at 14 points. This time the Panthers had the edge, 9-5.
Defense was a key factor in the game on the part of the Blue Lions. While shooting 49 percent from the field (17 of 35), Washington held Miami Trace in check. The Panthers made 9 of 43 shot attempts for 21 percent.
Senior Tanner Lemaster was the game’s leading scorer for Washington with 11 points.
Senior Michael Bearden and junior Isaiah Haithcock both had 10 points for the Blue Lions and junior John Wall scored eight points. Haithcock was the game’s leading rebounder, turning in a double-double with 11 rebounds.
The Panthers were led by junior Austin Boedeker with six points and senior Isaiah Reisinger scored four points.
“I just felt like we played hard the whole, entire game,” Washington head coach Shannon Bartruff said. “I thought our defense in the first half was as good as it’s been all year.
“Everybody gave us a little spark,” Bartruff said. “Whether it was sitting down and defending, making the extra pass, knocking down tough shots. I thought we did an amazing job on Andrew in the first half. That’s the best defense I’ve seen Tanner play in the three years I’ve had him. His defense was A plus, plus, plus.
“We tried to take away some of the things they do a good job with,” Bartruff said. “I felt like we did that. Our defense won the game. It allowed us to get out and get some easy buckets in transition.
“We made some great passes to Zay (Isaiah Haithcock) tonight,” Bartruff said.
“Mike’s like the Energizer bunny,” Bartruff said of Michael Bearden. “He got in foul trouble, early, but we kept getting him spots here and there. He’s going to make plays.
“Raleigh (Haithcock) knocked down a big shot after they came down and made a three,” Bartruff said. “John (Wall) is John. I say that all the time. But, he’s just steady. He’s a fierce competitor. He’s the best on-ball defender we have. He’s tenacious, he’s fearless.”
Bartruff spoke about the reason for holding the ball as the Blue Lions did in the fourth quarter.
“If you’re going to sit in a zone and we’ve got a 20-something point lead, we’re going to hold the ball for a league title,” Bartruff said. “I’m just not going to give more possessions if we don’t have to. Our kids earned the opportunity to be able to do that, especially playing against our county rival for a league title.”
The Blue Lions were tripped up in FAC play by Jackson, 64-52 at home on Jan. 13, the only blemish on their conference record. The Blue Lions won at Jackson, 57-48 on Dec. 6.
“I was really worried after we lost that Jackson game,” Bartruff said. “I didn’t like our vibe. I didn’t like how we played in that game. I didn’t like how we responded to adversity in that game. And we haven’t lost since that game. We could have had a gold ball. But, everything happens for a reason.”
“I didn’t think we executed great in the first half,” Miami Trace head coach Ben Ackley said. “Court House presents a lot of issues on the perimeter. They can pressure in multiple positions. I thought that gave us some trouble. They sped us up. We had some untimely mistakes on defense.
“When (you shoot) 2 of 23 in the first half, you’re going to struggle,” Ackley said. “To hold a team as explosive as Court House to 22 points going into the last possession (before halftime), that last three was a big shot Bearden hit. He’s kind of been a Panther killer here. That was a big shot and it kind of took the rest of the wind out of our sails.
“We struggled shooting it tonight,” Ackley said. “The execution wasn’t great on either end, which is unfortunate. We really thought we were prepared. We had practiced extremely well coming in and it just didn’t go our way tonight.
“In our second year, we’re a little bit ahead of where we thought we’d be,” Ackley said. “You never want to lose. There are no moral victories, especially against your rival. But, we’re 16-4. At the beginning (of the season) I don’t think anyone would have mapped that out for this group.
“I am extremely disappointed that we couldn’t get them over the hump and get a win tonight,” Ackley said. “It was a great atmosphere. Both schools really packed this gym and that just says so much for this community and that they love their basketball.”
Washington is the No. 1 seed in the upcoming 20-team Sectional tournament. It is the first time the Blue Lions have earned a No. 1 seed since the 2013-14 season, when they last won a league title; then it was the South Central Ohio League.
Washington will host a Sectional semifinal game Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. against the winner of the Athens (No. 16 seed, 6-12) vs Hillsboro (No. 17 seed, 5-12) game. Washington did not play Athens during the regular season and defeated Hillsboro twice in FAC play. Athens hosts Hillsboro on Feb. 18. Hillsboro and Athens did not play each other during the regular season.
Miami Trace is the No. 3 seed and will host a game on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. against the winner of the Circleville (No. 14 seed, 10-9) vs Waverly (No. 19 seed, 1-16) game. Miami Trace defeated both of those teams in the regular season. Circleville hosts Waverly on Feb. 18. Circleville and Waverly did not meet during the regular season.
McClain is the No. 18 seed (4-15) and will play at Logan Elm (No. 15 seed, 7-10) on Feb. 18. McClain did not play Logan Elm during the regular season.
Jackson (No. 13 seed, 9-9) will host River Valley (No. 20 seed, 1-17) on Feb. 18. Jackson did not play River Valley during the regular season.
In Division I, Chillicothe plays in the Central District. They are the No. 45 seed in that tournament and will play the winner of Logan (No. 46 seed) vs Olentangy Orange (No. 3 seed) on Friday, Feb. 24. Chillicothe did not meet Logan or Olentangy Orange during the regular season.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
W 10 15 21 5 — 51
MT 4 4 11 9 — 28
WASHINGTON — Garrett Rickman 1 (1)-0-5; John Wall 3-2-8; Michael Bearden 2 (1)-3-10; Brayden May 0-0-0; Will Miller 0-0-0; Raleigh Haithcock 1 (1)-0-5; Gage Merritt 0-0-0; Gabe Tayese 1-0-2; Tanner Lemaster 2 (1)-4-11; Noah Haithcock 0-0-0; Isaiah Haithcock 3-4-10; Jacob Lindsay 0-0-0. TOTALS — 13 (4)-13-51. Free throw shooting: 13 of 17 for 76 percent. Three-point field goals: Rickman, Bearden, R. Haithcock, Lemaster. Field goal shooting: 17 of 49 percent. Three-point field goal shooting: 4 of 13 for 31 percent. Offensive rebounds: 12. Turnovers: 15.
MIAMI TRACE — Shay Salyers 1-0-2; Trey Robinette 0 (1)-0-3; Grant Guess 0-0-0; Coleden May 1-1-3; Tate Landrum 1-0-2; Brady Armstrong 0-0-0; Zach Warnock 0 (1)-0-3; Isaiah Reisinger 0 (1)-1-4; Austin Boedeker 2-2-6; Bryson Sheets 0-0-0; Andrew Guthrie 0-2-2; Adam Guthrie 0-1-1; Bryson Osborne 1-0-2; Holden Hunter 0-0-0. TOTALS — 6 (3)-7-28. Free throw shooting: 7 of 10 for 70 percent. Three-point field goals: Robinette, Warnock, Reisinger. Field goal shooting: 9 of 43 for 21 percent. Three-point field goal shooting: 3 of 13 for 23 percent. Rebounds: 16 (9 offensive). Turnovers: 12. Assists: 3. Steals: 10. Blocked shots: 1. Fouls: 10.