COLUMBUS – New Knoxville accomplished a first for its school Saturday, but for its coach and conference the accomplishment was old-hat.
Behind smothering defense and balanced scoring, the Rangers capped the state’s only perfect season (27-0) and captured their first state title with a dominating 74-52 win over Worthington Christian in the Division IV boys basketball state final before 14,117 at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
The win was head coach Dan Hegemier’s third overall, coupled with two titles at Fort Loramie (1987 and 1993).
As for the Midwest Athletic Conference, the state title is its sixth this school year. The conference’s previous championships include Versailles in D-III girls basketball and D-III girls cross country, Marion Local in D-V football and D-IV volleyball and Coldwater in D-IV football.
The win also marked the MAC’s fourth boys’ basketball title this decade and first since St. Henry beat Versailles for the D-III championship in an all-MAC final in 2004.
New Knoxville, which has won 52 of its last 53 games, flexed its muscle and depth early and often. The Rangers never trailed and were never challenged.
“(Winning the state title) means a great deal,” New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier said. “Especially if you’re in a conference like we’re in. In the MAC you go to St. Henry, Marion Local, Minster, Coldwater and we’re kind of the little dog in there. Now we can hold our heads a little higher.”
New Knoxville showed its balance and shooting touch early with three players combining to go 5-of-6 (83-percent) from 3-point range in the first quarter. The Rangers led 23-13 after eight minutes.
In the second quarter Worthington Christian rallied to pull within five points three times, but the Rangers responded each time with a bucket. At the end of two quarters New Knoxville led 38-29.
The Rangers shot better from 3-point range (7-of-12; 58-percent) than they did from the floor (15-of-29; 52-percent) in the first half and committed only two turnovers.
Things got worse for Worthington Christian in the second half. The Warriors pulled within 40-30 with 6:33 left to go in the third quarter but never cut the lead to single digits. New Knoxville poured it on after that.
The Rangers led 50-37 after three quarters and never looked back.
All five New Knoxville starters entered the game averaging double-figures and all reached double-digits Saturday.
Junior center Brad Piehl led the Rangers with 16 points, while sophomore guard Ryan VanderHorst added 13. Senior Tony Meyer and junior Caleb Allen each netted 12 points, while junior Adam Arnett chipped in 11. VanderHorst had the best stat line, adding nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He did not turn the ball over.
“We don’t really care who shoots the ball,” Hegemier said. “(The kids) just want to share it and they do a great job of that.”
Meyer, the MAC player of the year, was especially hot early on, draining three 3s in the first quarter and four total in the half.
“He earned the right to drop it and he did,” Hegemier said. “That’s Tony. He told me he was going to do it.”
Said Meyer: “I don’t know if its confidence or me being crazy. That first one went in and I thought it was going to be a good night. When the next one went in I thought OK, this might be a special night.”
For the game, New Knoxville shot 50-percent from behind the 3-point arc (8-of-16), 53-percent from the floor (26-of-50) and 87.5-percent from the free throw line (14-of-16). The Rangers had seven turnovers.
Offensively the Warriors found everything tough. Junior and Ohio D-III player of the year Brian Hecker scored a season-low four points and had four turnovers. He managed just eight shots to go along with six rebounds and four blocks.
Sophomore Zack Joseph led the Warriors with 18 points, while his brother Tyler, a senior, dropped in 16.
“They had really strong defenders and we’re used to that in the (Central Catholic League) but all five of their guys were really strong,” Tyler Joseph said. “We never got into a rhythm and we got panicky.”
Said Piehl: “It was just one on one. You had to stop your man.”
Worthington Christian’s 52 points were its lowest output of the season, topping the previous low of 59 in a win over Columbus DeSales the fifth game of the season. Since then the Warriors had failed to score less than 61.
Worthington Christian shot a respectable 42-percent from the floor (21-of-51) but went just 9-of-25 from behind the 3-point arc. The Warriors managed just four free throws.
“I thought New Knoxville played tremendous in every phase of the game,” Worthington Christian coach Kevin Weakley said. “They took us out of what we wanted to do and I think they just have five guys that flat out understand both ends of the floor.
“I think they are a great basketball team. They had our number today.”
New Knoxville’s trip to state was its second ever and first in 61 years. The 1947 squad finished runner-up in Class B.
The title bears even more significance for a community of 891 people, all of whom it appeared were in the Schott. The only ones left in town Saturday were two cops.
New Knoxville will graduate 34 students in June.
“We’re from the MAC and there are a lot of state championships around there,” Hegemier said. “When I grew up people talked a lot about the 1947 team. Now they can talk about another.”