Route 66 Rivalry
The Saturday of Number Ones turned out to be all I could have hoped, and then some. The Ohio Associated Press released its state rankings last week and two local teams saw themselves on top of Division IV. The Minster Lady Wildcats on the girls’ side, and the Fort Loramie Redskins on the boys.
Fort Loramie girls are having a “down” year (at least by recent standards. Injuries to some key players have really hurt them. It’s almost a different team from some of the games I saw earlier this year. And yet, I know literally hundreds of programs that would take nine wins total in a down year, let alone by mid-January), and Minster is ranked No. 1, but that doesn’t matter in the Route 66 Rivalry.
The Wildcats jumped out to an early lead, and quickly everyone questions whether Loramie would be able to stay with the high-powered Minster team. But then the Redskins recovered, and by the end of the first quarter had closed the gap to just one point.
Minster first-year head coach Mike Wiss must have said the magic words, because his Wildcats squad only surrendered four points in the second quarter. Saturday afternoon’s dagger felt like it hit when junior Alli Fischer buried a three-pointer from the corner as time expired in the half. The trey put Minster’s lead in double-digits for the first time, and they’d never look back.
This was my first chance to see Minster play since the regional semi-final of last year, and holy cow, are they impressive! When a Division IV school (that isn’t secretly recruiting *cough* Columbus Africentric *cough*) runs out a starting lineup of 5-7, 5-10, 5-10, 6-0 and 6-2, and they’re all great athletes, you’re going to have something special.
Just for the sake of throwing it out there, the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team has a starting five of 5-8, 5-11, 6-0, 6-0, and 6-5.
The defense was suffocating, the ball-movement was impressive, and if the Wildcats finished some of their missed shots in the paint, the game would have been over even quicker. Minster’s got two go-to players in Rosie Westerbeck and Courtney Prenger, plus a team full of players who genuinely seem to love their roles. That’s special.
With a few hours break between games, (just enough for the girls’ crowd to get to five o’clock mass before the boys’ game started), a short trip up 66 was well worth it.
There were strong feelings that Saturday night would be a battle between the two rivals. Fort Loramie had bounced back with a nice win over Anna on Friday night after dropping two games in a row since the AP rankings had been released. The Redskins fell at Russia and then at home to another AP Top 10 team in Versailles (No. 7 in DIII). And Minster was looking to bounce back after a tough MAC loss Friday night with a ruckus home crowd on hand Saturday.
Loramie got off to a hot start, which felt much-needed after the way the previous two games had gone. Dillon Braun continued to show that he is one of the area’s top shooters from long-range as he buried three triples in the opening stanza.
Minster brought the came to a tie midway through the second quarter, but the Redskins responded with a run of their own and took a 26-19 lead into the locker room at the half.
The second half brought a new level of physicality and defensive pressure from both Minster and Fort Loramie. Minster climbed within a few points, and then Loramie inched back ahead. At times it seemed like the six point Redskins lead might as well been 20, but then fourth quarter rolled around.
Leading 31-25 after three quarters, it seemed like Loramie had the game in hand, but Minster’s defense took its game to another level. After playing three quarters of 2-3 zone, the Wildcats turned to man-to-man pressure instead. As the Redskins tried to patiently run their offense and attack the basket, 6-8 Jarod Schulze made it impossible to score. The sophomore had three blocked shots in four possessions, effectively shutting down Loramie’s offense.
In the fourth quarter, the Redskins didn’t make a single field goal. The lone two points came off of free throws. Meanwhile, Minster’s shooters got hot, as Aaron Ernst and Mike Ketner knocked down some long-range threes to bring the Wildcats back into the game. Eventually, the quarter ran out with Loramie holding the ball for nearly two minutes, and the final attack came up just short.
What better way to spend a Saturday! The Route 66 Rivalry was heading to OT tied at 33-33.
Overtime brought more of the same style of basketball for the fans. Best described as punishing. As the back and forth continued, baskets were at a rarity. Just like the end of regulation, the Redskins held possession as the OT drew to a close.
As the seconds ticked down into single-digits, junior Evan Berning drove to the hoop. His shot arched perfectly over Schulze’s lanky frame, and found the bottom of the net with six seconds to go. There may be a separate article coming talking about Evan “Big Shot” Berning. The kid made two buzzer-beaters on Saturday night, and I know I’ve seen him hit at least two others at the end of quarters. Minster was able to get a pretty good look before the final buzzer sounded, but the shot was off the mark and the Redskins came out on top, 37-35.
Winning on the road, especially in MAC country, is never easy. Loramie responded to adversity and took a nice step forward this week. Minster reminds me of last season’s Redskins squad. There’s a lot of youth that seems ready to blossom (besides Schulze, who had five points and 12 rebounds with at least four blocked shots, they’ve got two other sophomores in Ketner and Cody Frericks who have bright futures), and a team that is on the cusp of figuring things out.
Fort Loramie boys showed why they’re one of the toughest teams to beat in DIV on Saturday night. Minster girls showed why they’re one of the top team in DIV on Saturday afternoon.
In all, the Route 66 Rivalry lived up to every expectation this season.