Meadowbrook and West Holmes High Schools have overcome two forgettable
boys basketball regular seasons – they each went 5-15 – and are now just one game away
from a Division II district final appearance. Unexpected? Yes. Can they do it? Yes.
Meadowbrook and West Holmes High Schools have overcome two forgettable regular seasons – they each went 5-15 – and are now just one game away from a district final appearance.
Meadowbrook locks horns with a young but talented Carrollton Warriors (11-10) squad on Saturday at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center. Tip off is set for 4 p.m. West Holmes will be doing battle with a solid New Philadelphia (14-7) outfit Saturday at 7 p.m. in Coshocton High School’s “wigwam.”
West Holmes head coach Kelly Seboe knows what waits.
“We lost to New Philadelphia by 12 in the regular season, but it was the night after the Ohio State bowl game and there was an ice storm,” Seboe said. “Neither team looked real interested on that night. They have a nice big kid in the middle in John Stephenson, but the thing that stands out the most to me is their guards. Philly has some really good guards that can put it on the floor and shoot it.”
Meadowbrook head coach Keith Arnold knows a big challenge is looming likewise.
“Carrollton is an excellent team in the open floor,” Arnold explained. “They have confident scorers, and are very aggressive on defense in extending the floor. Its defense creates a lot of scoring opportunities in transition. We need to limit their runs and transition opportunities. They also have some nice size, but I think we have adjusted to being the smaller team as it has been that way all year. Hopefully we can create some mismatches on the offensive end for our team.”
Regardless of the outcomes Saturday, the tournament has been a success already for both teams. The run for both began last Tuesday with West Holmes getting by Urichsville Claymont (82-58) and Meadowbrook knocking off Harrison Central (65-35). The Huskies were actually seeded ahead of the Colts.
“The first thing people should know is we play one of the tougher Division II schedules in the state,” Seboe said. “The Ohio Cardinal Conference is made up of four Division Is and four Division IIs. To be honest, it’s a meat grinder every night, and we were very close in a lot of those games but just couldn’t pull it out.”
Arnold feels the same.
“We were a young team filled with sophomores and juniors, and were struggling to get that team chemistry, “Arnold stated. “We have overcome a lot of obstacles and are now starting to figure things out. Offensively we are now starting to shoot the ball well and willing to make the extra pass. Our defense has been improving all year and now guys are stepping into their roles and making the most of it.”
Although the losses were piling up for both teams, one thing remained present for each.
“Our guys have great inner character that you can work with,” Seboe said. “We try to pump the kids full of confidence, especially when things were tough. Through it all, our kids have kept a great attitude and kept working. We are going to face teams in the tournament that haven’t played the sort of competition our kids have seen. We have a lot of leadership on this team with five of our first seven being seniors”
“We have kept a great attitude and were improving all year,” Arnold said. “We have improved in so many areas, but none more so than our willingness to make the extra pass. That wasn’t always the case.”
The initial tournament victories were impressive in terms of margin of victory, but each team’s second triumph was legit proof that the two are far better than their records.
West Holmes upset Maysville, 64-52 in double overtime. The Panthers advanced to the regional last season before losing to Meadowbrook. Maysville returned almost its entire contingent. The Knights were up to the challenge, and outscored the Panthers 17-5 in the second overtime.
“We knew one of the two teams had to lose,” Seboe said. “Our team has learned many valuable lessons over the course of the year, and the main one is to never quit or give up. This team certainly proves that statement. We don’t learn all that much from winning, but losing on the other hands tell you what you need to do to improve.”
Meadowbrook used a large collection of free throws in the fourth period to shock No. 2 seed Coshocton. The Colts, who lost to the Redskins twice in the regular season, scored a 75-61 victory thanks to some very good guard play. Meadowbrook shot 35 free throws in the fourth period.
Arnold knew his team had to be in the right situation come tournament time to be successful.
“Our kids were ready to compete and prove last year wasn’t a fluke,” stated the Colt head man. “The drawing had to fall right for us, and fortunately for us the draw went our way. It allowed us to play some teams we felt comfortable against.”
It was evident the Colts were getting closer during the regular season as they went from being defeated 58-46 in early December by Coshocton to nearly knocking them off in late January (65-63).
Neither team would be confused with a juggernaut during the regular season, but a lot of that can be attributed to such demanding schedules.
West Holmes was trying to replace its top two players from last season in John Miller and Ben Snyder, while Meadowbrook was searching for a way to replace its catalyst Phillip Biggs. The departed Biggs, who is now earning quality minutes at Notre Dame College, an NCAA Division II school in Ohio, led the Guernsey County school all the way to the regional final before losing to eventual state champion Chillicothe. Meadowbrook is trying to do this again despite not having a senior on its roster.
The Knights did receive a pick-me-up in the offseason as 6-foot-4 senior Jon Leighty decided to return to the team after missing his junior campaign. The rugged senior is averaging 8.1 points per contest, 8.6 rebounds, and leads the team with 66 assists.
“Jon (Leighty) has great vision and can pass extremely well for a big guy,” Seboe said.. “He anchors our defense in the middle and blocks a lot of shots, which is a big reason our defense has been good all year. We have held our opponents under 40-percent shooting all season.”
Things got off to a poor start with the likes of Hiland (21-0), Wooster Triway, Lexington, and Orrville being the first four challengers out of the gate. All four teams enjoyed outstanding regular seasons, so it wasn’t a surprise the Knights struggled to a 0-4 start.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Ohio Cardinal Conference, it is a very strong league with the likes of Mansfield Madison, Mansfield Senior, Orrville, Lexington, Ashland, Wooster and Clear Fork that more often than not has West Holmes ready for the rigors of the D-II tournament in the East District.
With the 0-4 start, things certainly looked bleak but the Knights bounced back to win three-straight including two conference games. Then, the fun ended as the Holmes County school lost its next 10 contests.
The Millersburg-based school limped through the OCC (3-11 conference record), but the Knights did manage to win two of their last three. There was a rainbow behind the storm. WH lost 10 games by nine or less points including seven of those games by five or fewer.
The Knights are led by seniors Ethan Holt (6-1), Cory Acker (6-1), Andy Fox (6-4), Leighty and Jack Doran-Perrine (6-1). Juniors Stewart Sabine (6-3) and Max Doerflinger (5-10) have been solid as well.
Holt is the leading the team in scoring at 14 points per game and was named first team all conference. Fox is also enjoying a fine senior season, tallying nine points per outing and five boards. Acker is adding seven markers a night, leading the team in steals (35) and is second in assists (57).
For the Colts, it has been a similar story with a little different twist. Meadowbrook, as mentioned above, has no seniors.
Much like West Holmes, the Colts play in a very strong league known as the East Central Ohio League with the likes of Dover, Cambridge, New Philadelphia, and Coshocton.
Meadowbrook opened with ECOL powerhouse Dover followed by Coshocton, rival Buckeye Trail, Cambridge and Marietta. The only team not remaining in the tournament of those five is Coshocton. The 1-4 start was a big reason for the struggles that remained the remainder of the regular season.
The Colts were losers of seven-straight after beating River View by 20 in early January, which spanned about one month. Regardless of the 2-3 finish, improvement was definitely evident. Do you need proof? How about taking an ultra-strong Marietta squad to overtime in the regular season finale, before falling short 75-69? Marietta is a team that beat Cambridge twice and also Zanesville once.
Meadowbrook is led by a very strong junior class with as many as six earning quality minutes. The starting five is comprised of all juniors. A pair of 5-9 guards ignite the offense in Jeremy Neff and Logan Pepper. The two poured in 18 points in the upset win over Coshocton.
“Our guard play has improved all season, and Jeremy (Neff) has been shooting the ball really well lately,” Arnold relayed. “Jeremy was one of two returning starters from last year along with Ethan (Shriver), so that run last year gave us some unforgettable experience. (Logan) Pepper and Alex Robertson were the first two kids off the bench, so that helped as well. It hasn’t just been our guard play though, as other guys have been expanding their role.”
The interior players are not tall in stature, but all three play bigger than their 6-1 or 6-0 frames. Junior Ethan Shriver, who was a starter on last year’s regional outfit, is the money man on the interior. Shriver scored 20 points and grabbed some timely rebounds in the upset win over Coshocton. The baby-faced Shriver has good foot work, a soft touch and deceptive leaping ability with above average hang time.
His frontcourt mates are juniors Alex Robertson and Steve Minyo. The former has scored 14 points in both tournament games, while the latter does most of the blue-collar work.
The bench is made up of junior Andrew Nichols and sophomores Devon Cook and Kyle Roberts. The 6-1 Cook has the makings of a very good future in a Colt uniform.
What does the tournament future hold for these two upstart units? Who knows, but it’s been a good ride – and unexpected one – thus far.