New Knoxville wins back-to-back MAC boys basketball titles

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New Knoxville 73, Marion Local 62
New Knoxville defended
its Midwest Athletic Conference title after banging hard with Marion
Local on Friday. The Rangers’ up-tempo offense and aggressive man
defense wore down the Flyers, 73-62, giving them their 42nd straight
regular-season win. Perhaps more impressive than their back-to-back
outright MAC titles is that the Rangers have won every game this season by double
digits.


NEW KNOXVILLE — When it comes to high school enrollment, New Knoxville is forced to play small ball.

When it comes to boys high school basketball, few play bigger than the Rangers.

New Knoxville — one of the smallest districts in the state — defended its Midwest Athletic Conference title after banging hard with Marion Local on Friday. The Rangers’ up-tempo offense and aggressive man defense wore down the Flyers, 73-62, giving them their 42nd straight regular-season win. Perhaps more impressive than their back-to-back outright MAC titles — Marion was the last team to do it in 2000 and 2001 — is that the Rangers have won every game this season by double digits.

“Once we wear teams down the first three quarters our fans really help us pull it out,” said New Knoxville sophomore forward Ryan VanderHorst, who took over the second quarter with 11 of his 19 points.

According to Ohio High School Athletic Association numbers, New Knoxville has 59 boys in grades 9-11. The next closest is Delphos St. John’s with 102. That’s a difference of 43 students. Coldwater tops the MAC at 188.

“It means a lot more because all the other schools are bigger than what we are,” said New Knoxville junior Brad Piehl. “Winning a conference like this, there’s nothing better than that.”

The Barn, the Rangers’ cozy gym that seats about 1,000, grew louder with chants of ‘MAC!’ and ‘Undefeated!’ as the home team pulled away late. New Knoxville (19-0 overall, 8-0 MAC) goes for its second straight undefeated regular season next Friday at St. John’s.

Marion (12-5, 6-2) gave that streak a good run Friday. The Flyers rode 6-foot-6 center Jordan Winner inside early. Winner scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the first half. New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier discussed stopping Winner during his halftime talk.

“We weren’t too happy the way we defended in the first half,” Hegemier said. “We thought it was horrible.”

The Rangers responded with a 13-3 run to start the second half, pushing the lead to 52-39 late in the third quarter. The Flyers cut the deficit to single digits just one more time when Chris Stucke’s 3-pointer made it 66-57 with 3:05 left in the game. Stucke hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and four overall. Both teams combined for 15 overall (9 from Marion, 6 from New Knoxville).

Piehl, New Knoxville’s 6-6 center, matched Winner with clutch scores. Piehl used his quickness down low for a game-high 26 points. Tony Meyer — who drained a momentum grabbing 3-pointer to end the first half — added 11.

“The one thing I like about this team is they share the ball so well together,” Hegemier said. “You can watch our team and we don’t have people say it’s my turn to shoot.”

It helps when you’re averaging 71 points. The Rangers have scored 70 or more points in 12 games this season. The defense, meanwhile, his holding opponents to 42.

“We run a lot in practice,” said Piehl. “Being in condition has never been a problem as long as Dan Hegemier has been here.”

The Rangers — ranked No. 1 in the Division IV state poll — hope to keep that going through the postseason. They fell in the regional finals last season to eventual-state champ Georgetown, but many think their team play makes the Rangers a bigger threat to reach state this season.

“They just bring more weapons to the table,” said Marion Local coach Keith Westrick. “The way they feed off each other is probably the most incredible thing. Once they get you behind a little bit it’s hard to catch back up.”

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