For the second straight season, and for the second straight season at Athens High School’s McAfee Gymnasium, the Oak Hill Oaks captured a sectional championship in boys basketball.
Paul Boggs has details from the game.
THE PLAINS — For a three-week period out of the year, Athens serves as a home away from home for legendary boys basketball coach Norm Persin.
His Oak Hill Oaks are now making that same home away from home.
For the second straight season, and for the second straight season at Athens High School’s McAfee Gymnasium, the Oaks captured a sectional championship in boys basketball.
The top-seeded Oaks advanced to the Division IV district semifinals with a 71-54 victory over the Miller Falcons on Tuesday.
With the win, the Oaks improved their impressive record to 18-3 overall, and will return to the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens next Tuesday for the Division IV district semifinals.
Last season, as a Division III program, the Oaks upended Wellston and Alexander in the Athens sectional before advancing to the Convocation Center.
The Oaks then captured the district championship, becoming the first Jackson County team to accomplish such a feat in boys basketball.
This season, Oak Hill is Division IV, and is once again returning to a familiar place to Persin: the Convocation Center.
Persin, in 21 years and over 500 career victories at Chesapeake, made many trips to the Convo for the district and regional tournaments.
Now, he makes his second straight appearance as the Oaks’ bench boss. Oak Hill boys basketball had fallen on hard times before Persin’s return last season.
“Back-to-back sectionals is huge for our kids and our program, given the situation they’ve been in in the past,” said Persin. “We did it last year as Division III, and dropped down a division this year, but it doesn’t matter who you play. You want to continue to do that (advance in the tournament). If we didn’t do what we did tonight, then people will forget all about what happened last year. We want to try and build a program and gain some consistency.”
As far as consistency on Tuesday, the Oaks consistently shot layups on the Falcons.
For the game, Oak Hill shot a staggering 69-percent, sinking 26-of-38 shots including 24-of-33 (73-percent) from inside the arc. Eighteen of those 26 baskets were layups, with two of them being Ryan Borden three-pointers.
“I thought we came out and passed the ball really well,” said Persin. “We looked behind the zone a lot, we passed the ball around the perimeter well, we looked for the open man. We didn’t take bad shots tonight. Our shot selection was excellent.”
The Oaks, minus a 3-2 deficit in the game’s early going, led the entire way, and began to pull away from the Falcons with a 32-21 halftime advantage.
With a 15-11 first-quarter lead, the Oaks outscored the Falcons 39-24 in the middle two periods for a 54-35 advantage entering the fourth frame.
Oak Hill won the second stanza 17-10, then stretched the lead to as large as 20 for the majority of the second half.
The Oaks’ largest margin was 58-35 early in the fourth. Oak Hill amassed 22 points in the third period to completely seize control.
“In the second half, we got a couple of steals and layups right away and went from up 11 to over 20,” said Persin.
Oak Hill already held a size advantage over the smaller Falcons, and often beat Miller for baskets in transition.
“On the break, they push the ball up and get it right in the middle of the paint almost every time,” said Miller coach Ben Bethel. “They must have had 10 layups that way. They killed us on the break. We gave up way too many easy buckets. We didn’t do a good job of getting back, and they did a good job of finishing too. Regardless of how we played defensively, they just threw it over the top of our guys and we had a hard time stopping them. The size differential was so big. Then we try to block shots which is something we don’t want to do.”
The smallest Oak regular is exactly six-feet tall, with the frontline likes of freshman Jesse Slone and junior J.D. Hale standing 6-3 and 6-5 respectively.
Slone and Hale were two of five Oaks in double figures, as Slone led the way with 14 points on six field goals and 2-of-5 free throws.
Hale had five field goals as part of 11 points, while Borden, Kyle Ondera and 6-3 freshman Drew Cannon all scored 10. Borden and Ondera finished with four field goals apiece, while Cannon collected three field goals and 4-of-5 free throws.
Slone had nine first-half markers as Hale and Ondera each added seven.
Slone scored half of his points in the first period alone, but Borden’s three-pointer from the right wing opened up a 14-7 lead with 3:10 to play in the quarter.
Only a minute earlier, Ondera and Hale had scored for a 10-5 advantage.
Miller only trailed 15-11 at quarter’s end, but a basket by Slone followed by four points from Cannon pushed the lead back to seven (23-16).
At the 3:13 mark, Ondera scored on a three-point play for a double-digit edge.
Tyler Householder then hit a three for the Falcons, but Miller would come no closer the rest of the way. The closest they came after halftime was 13 points on a basket by Cannon just 20 seconds into the third.
Miller managed to hang around early, aided by 10 points from Dustin Householder and a pair of threes by fellow senior Andrew Fulk.
The standout Householder poured in a game-high 24 points on seven total field goals and 8-of-10 free throws.
Fulk finished with 13 on one deuce, three treys and 2-of-2 foul shots.
Householder also had a half-dozen rebounds and a half-dozen steals. His younger brother dished out three assists.
But the Oaks forced the Falcons into 32-percent shooting (17-of-54), including only 8-of-26 from three-point range.
The south countians held a 26-17 edge in total field goals. Oak Hill also held a commanding 32-17 advantage on the boards.
A year after advancing to the Division IV district championship game, the Falcons finished a disappointing season with a 7-15 overall record.
Householder was hurt for the first half of the winter, and the Falcons fell to the eighth seed in the Athens sectional after a 1-7 start.
Householder leaves as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and also exits with the most steals in school history.
“Dustin Householder has over 1,350 points at Miller,” said the fourth-year coach Bethel. “That pretty much says how much he’s meant to us. One of the best we’ve ever had. We’ve seen a lot of great things out of him.”
As for the other seniors, Fulk was a first-year Falcon, and according to Bethel, was “probably our second-leading scorer this season.” Brett Moler also concluded his career in Purple and White.
“We won 14 games last year, so this year was kind of disappointing,” admitted Bethel. “It was frustrating because of injuries, frustrating because of early losses. We put ourselves in the position of where we had to play a number one seed. We didn’t do that last year, and when you don’t have many wins, this is what’s going to happen.”
The Oaks, on the other hand, overcame a 12-day layoff from their last regular-season game to their first tournament affair.
“That layoff was real tough, it was the main thing that worried me,” said Persin. “But our kids handled it really well. We only took one day off from practice in the middle of the week. This time of year, you can really practice too much. Just like not practicing enough, you can practice too much. You want to have fresh legs and a fresh mind, the kids want to play.”
The next layoff isn’t quite as long — only a week between games.
Oak Hill will once again be in Athens, and will once again be playing on a Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.
The Oaks will play the Leesburg Fairfield Lions, which defeated New Boston 87-78 in another Division IV sectional championship game on Monday.
Persin said the Oaks’ goal, of course, is to return to the regional tournament…and perhaps beyond.
“We felt we had a pretty nice regular season when you win 17 games, but it’s all about the tournament now,” he said. “Last year we won a sectional, but we also won a district. This year, we have to do the same thing. This is what we have to think about, you have to think about the next step and playing to that possibility.”
* * *
Miller 11 10 14 19 — 54
Oak Hill 15 17 22 17 — 71
MILLER 54 (7-15)
Brett Moler 1 0-2 2, Andrew Fulk 4 2-2 13, Aaron Ansel 0 0-0 0, Tyler Householder 1 0-0 3, Tucker McLean 0 0-0 0, Joseph Rader 2 0-0 5, Dustin Householder 7 8-10 24, Jacob Reynolds 1 2-2 4, Ryan Estep 1 0-0 3; TOTALS 17 12-16 54; Three-point field goals: 8 (Andrew Fulk 3, Dustin Householder 2, Tyler Householder, Joseph Rader and Ryan Estep 1 apiece)
OAK HILL 71 (18-3)
Drew Cannon 3 4-5 10, Chris Dupree 0 0-0 0, Jesse Slone 6 2-5 14, Kyle Ondera 4 2-5 10, Westen Hale 1 4-4 6, Ryan Borden 4 0-0 10, Daniel Parker 1 3-4 5, Michael Evans 0 0-0 0, Cody Massie 0 0-0 0, J.D. Hale 5 1-2 11, Cory Miller 0 0-0 0, Cody Cannon 2 1-2 5; TOTALS 26 17-27 71; Three-point field goals: 2 (Ryan Borden 2)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Miller 17-54 (.315), 2-point field goals 9-28 (.321), 3-point field goals 8-26 (.308); Oak Hill 26-38 (.684), 2-point field goals 24-33 (.727), 3-point field goals 2-5 (.400); Free throws — Miller 12-16 (.750), Oak Hill 17-27 (.630); Rebounds — Miller 17 (Dustin Householder 6), Oak Hill 32; Steals — Miller 11 (Dustin Householder 6), Oak Hill not available; Assists — Miller 11 (Tyler Householder 3), Oak Hill not available; Turnovers — Miller 12, Oak Hill 21; Team fouls — Miller 22, Oak Hill 15