A story like this happened in a small town in Indiana and they made a movie out of it. Heard of Hoosiers? Hickory? Milan? Add New Knoxville to those ranks. The Rangers deserve it. Come June, New Knoxville High School will graduate 29 seniors, including 15 boys. Five of them play basketball. And man do they play it well.
A story like this happened once in a small town in Indiana and they made a movie out of it. Ever heard of Hoosiers? Hickory? Milan? Add New Knoxville to those ranks. The Rangers deserve it.
Come June, New Knoxville High School will graduate 29 seniors, including 15 boys. Five of them play basketball. And man do they play it well.
Friday the Rangers ran their regular season win streak to 63 games and completed their third straight 20-0 regular season with a tough 64-60 win over St. Henry before a sell-out crowd on senior night at “The Barn.” The Rangers haven’t lost a regular season game since dropping a 46-36 decision to the same St. Henry-club on Feb. 10, 2006. That was the current senior class’s freshman year.
“I think it’s a tremendous achievement,” St. Henry head coach Joe Niekamp said. “Knowing some of those kids the way I do, they are outstanding young men. I’m happy for the success they are having. I tip my cap to them. It would have been nice to be the team to bump them off, but I’m not disappointed.”
The win was New Knoxville’s 47th straight overall dating back to the start of last season. That run includes the 2008 Division IV state championship.
Actually, since the start of the 2006-07 season, New Knoxville is 72-1, its lone loss coming to eventual state champion Georgetown, 60-57, in the 2007 D-IV Oxford regional final.
Want more? Better sit down.
Perhaps the most impressive streak is the one New Knoxville has in the Midwest Athletic Conference, the state’s toughest 10-team affiliation. Since back-to-back losses to Versailles and St. Henry in 2006, the Rangers have won 29 straight conference games. Consider it a graduation present. One for every student.
With a 65-40 victory over Versailles last week, the Rangers became just the second school in MAC history to win three straight boys basketball titles, joining – you guessed it – St. Henry, which did it in 1990-92.
Funny thing about those Redskins teams in the early 1990s is that they are arguably the best small school basketball teams in Ohio history. Led by future NFLers Bobby Hoying (who was in attendance Friday) and Jeff Hartings, St. Henry won a D-III state title in 1990 and a D-IV title in 1991. The Redskins did show some signs of being human though – dropping one game each season.
New Knoxville has done no such thing.
So where does that rank them?
Considering the applause they received Friday night – near the top of the list. Another state title could push them past the brink.
“To be a senior and win your last game at home to go 20-0 while taking the other team’s best shot means a lot,” New Knoxville senior Brad Piehl said. “I think it means more to the fans sometimes, though, than it does us. Every year they come out for basketball season and everyone looks forward to it. This is it.”
New Knoxville is the smallest school in the MAC and the only one that doesn’t play football. With no fall sport to share an addiction, basketball receives the full brunt. The Barn, New Knoxville’s home gym, has been sold-out before the season started for three straight years. There’s seating for 1,000 and the waiting list for season tickets numbers 80. New Knoxville’s population is 891. Friday, one fan flew in from Boston, arriving at the Dayton airport at 5:40 p.m. They made halftime of the reserve game.
As small as New Knoxville is, it does own a pretty reputable past.
The Rangers made the state tournament in 1947 and finished runner-up in Class B, dropping a 43-34 decision to Columbiana in the state final.
The school also owns an NBA alumnus. New Knoxville grad Evan Eschmeyer was a second round pick in the 1999 NBA Draft after a standout career at Northwestern. A 6-11 post, Eschmeyer earned All-Big Ten honors as a Wildcat before a four-year career with the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks. Nagging knee problems forced a retirement.
Even more recently, both the volleyball and girls basketball teams made the D-IV state finals in the 2006-07 school year. Each finished runner-up.
Nothing, though, compares to the current Rangers run.
Heading into the tournament opener – a date with Waynesfield Goshen or Lima Perry at Coldwater on March 6 – New Knoxville’s seniors are 89-6. Should they complete another undefeated run, the class would finish their careers 96-6.
Talk about homegrown.
A 6-8 post headed to Robert Morris, Piehl has played a large part – literally and figuratively – in the recent run. A contributor since Day One, Piehl leads the team in scoring (14.1 points) and rebounding (8.9). He did so last year as well. Piehl is also the Rangers first NCAA Division I recruit since Eschmeyer.
Friday Piehl scored a game-high 28 points, including 10-of-15 from the free throw line, and dominated the paint.
Said Niekamp: “He’s good. Very good.”
Like Piehl, Caleb Allen started playing varsity as a freshman. Austin Arnett started as a sophomore. Both have been huge during the streak as well.
Allen and Arnett are second and third in scoring on the team with 13.5 and 12.1 points per game, respectively. Both have also made over half of their shots this year. Allen is blistering the nets with a 63.3 field-goal percentage, while Arnett is shooting 54.1. Piehl comes in at 50.6. All three shoot better than 75-percent from the free throw line.
Arnett scored 16 Friday, while Allen added 12.
Senior point guard Derek Dicke has developed into a viable replacement for last year’s MAC POY Tony Meyer, who graduated along with key reserve Austin Luck.
Reserve Kyle Merges rounds out the senior class.
“We started playing together in the third grade,” Piehl said. “It’s a small school so we don’t have kids coming in and out. We’ve always been together and we’ve always been playing basketball. I think that chemistry that we’ve learned over the years has really paid off.”
Don’t think the seniors have gone it alone. They’ve been assisted by standout junior Ryan Vanderhorst. A three-year starter and the Rangers most versatile player, Vanderhorst averages 11.8 points, 5.8 assists and 1.7 steals. He shoots 83.3-percent from the free throw line and is second on the team in 3s made (20).
Sophomore Marcus Reineke has emerged as a reliable 3-point specialist, having hit a team-high 30. Friday he showed his grit by drilling two free throws with under a minute left.
“The things I’ve noticed about them by just watching so much tape is they are athletic, they are knowledgeable, they are well-schooled defensively and offensively and they are extremely skilled,” Niekamp said. “There are just a lot of really solid basketball players there.”
The Rangers won’t get a chance to compete against the big schools in the state tournament like those guys in Hoosiers did, but maybe it’s the Division I schools who get the better end of that equation.
How far-fetched is it to think that New Knoxville could compete against some of the state’s biggest schools? Not very.
We’ve already seen what MAC schools can do when labeled heavy underdogs: see Coldwater over Youngstown Mooney in football. See Versailles over South Euclid Regina in girls basketball.
Basketball coaches can only play five at a time. And that’s a number New Knoxville can relate to.
“After it’s all said and done we’ll look back and be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Piehl said. “Right now though we have to start looking ahead and thinking about tournament time.
“We’ll celebrate tonight and then come in tomorrow and watch film to see what we did wrong and what we did right. We’ll learn from it and move forward. We’ll get ready for the next game.”
Bring on Jimmy Chitwood.