The Division IV field for the boys basketball state tournament is probably not what most expected but the story lines run far and deep. The line up includes a team that has ended an 86-year tournament drought, a first-time qualifier, an Ohio coaching legend with a state title and another state champion (insert asterisk here). All told, the stage is set for some exciting small-school basketball.
The Division IV field for the 87th Annual State Boys Basketball Tournament is probably not what most expected coming into the season but the story lines run far and deep.
The line up includes a team that has ended an 86-year tournament drought, a first-time qualifier, an Ohio coaching legend with a state title under his belt and another state champion (insert asterisk here).
All told, the stage is set for some exciting small-school basketball.
Long Time Coming
Talk about droughts.
The last time Ada qualified for the basketball state tournament, the car was a ground-breaking invention and Warren G. Harding was the President.
For the first time since 1923, the Bulldogs will be competing for a state championship.
“We’re real excited to (reach the state tournament) and it is a tremendous accomplishment for this group of boys,” head coach Chris Sautter said. “The school and everybody are real excited.”
Unranked Ada (22-3) started off the season 5-1 before reeling off 17 straight wins to reach the Final Four.
“I think it has all started at the defensive end for us,” Sautter explained. “If you can get kids to buy into that end of the floor it takes a lot of teamwork and sacrifice at that end of the floor.”
Ada set a school record for allowing just 42 points per game undercutting the previous 45-point mark.
“Once we decided what we were going to do defensively and focused on man-to-man, the kids really started to come together as a team,” the seventh-year head coach said. “The teamwork has been outstanding the second half of the season.”
Getting Over The Hump
Ada qualified for the district tournament each of the last six years but failed to reach the regional tournament.
The Bulldogs defeated defending state champion New Knoxville snapping the Rangers 49-game winning streak in the district final this season to take the next step.
“That confidence has really carried us,” Sautter said of the landmark postseason win.
When Ada Has The Ball
The Bulldogs go eight deep off the bench with each player standing in over 6-foot-0 tall.
“Our kids have a lot of different capabilities and can do a lot of different things. We don’t have any one guy that stands out but we have four to five guys that could score 20 points on any given night,” said Sautter.
Point guard Kyle Baker is a four-year starter and scores eight points per game.
“He does a not job of getting us into our sets. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and take it to the hole,” said Sautter. “He’s been the guy that makes us go on the offensive end.”
Junior forward Mitchell Faine has also played since his freshman year and is the starting quarterback on the football team. He is good for 12.4 points per contest.
“He brings a lot of things to the table like we expect all of our guys to. He is a difficult match up for some teams because of his ability to play inside and out,” Sautter said.
Senior center Aaron Cross is a two-year starter and gives Ada a 6-foot-6 presence in the paint but can also step out and shoot the jump shot. He accounts for 11 points per game.
“(Cross) is our leading three-point shooter but is able to get a lot of offensive rebounds and finish around the basket,” said Sautter.
Cross also plays on the gridiron but missed most of the 2008 season after breaking his collar bone in four places. But Sautter said he is back to 100 percent.
Freshman guard Konnor Baker – younger brother to Kyle – adds 11.7 points per game and senior forward Brandon Dysert accounts for eight points per game.
Oak Hill is making its first appearance in the state tournament one week removed from the girls basketball team making its first trip.
The Lady Oaks finished state runner-up to South Euclid Regina in Division III.
“Our community has been on a real high right now traveling back and forth to Columbus and Athens,” head coach Norm Persin said. “It has been very rewarding for our kids and we’re (excited) to have this opportunity.”
Before Persin took over the Oak Hill program four seasons ago, the Oaks combined for nine wins in the previous three seasons
“When I took over, there was just no energy in the program,” he said. “They hadn’t won at anything but they just didn’t have that fire. I think once they bought in and they started winning some games it just picked up and it kind of carried over from there.
“The kids accepted what we did and started working hard in the summer and did the extra things to win. You could see it in their eyes that there was something special there.”
Persin’s career includes a previous six year tenure at Oak Hill before moving to Wilmington for a two-year stint followed by 21 years at Chesapeake.
“I just try to keep everything in perspective,” he said. “This is something for the kids. I have had a lot of honors and been to the regionals so many times and coached in so many big games. These kids need to cherish this situation.”
Eye On The Prize
No. 4 Oak Hill (23-2) lost to state runner-up Worthington Christian in the regional finals last season and set out this season to take the next step.
“Going into the season the kids had (the state tournament) as their goal,” Persin said. “We thought we had a shot but we knew the road wasn’t going to be easy road and it never is.
“We told our kids that if they wanted to be special they were going to have to do the extra things and they have had that type of mindset all season.”
When Oak Hill Has The Ball
Oak Hill likes to get up and down the floor and is a good transition team, according to Persin. The offense is dictated around the post with senior center J.D. Hale and forward senior Ryan Borden in the front court.
Hale, son of girls head coach Doug Hale, leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game.
“He has nice touch around the basket and can play on the perimeter a little bit,” Persin said of the Rio Grande recruit.
Borden nets 12.5 points per game.
“He has rebounded really well this season and has a nice perimeter game,” said Persin. “He has been a real steady force in the tournament.”
Junior point guard Kyle Ondera runs the offense scoring 13.5 points per game and 6.5 assists.
“He is probably the guy that makes us go. He is a great athlete and is our leading rebounder as a point guard,” Persin said. “He is always playing hard.”
Junior forward Jesse Slone, who is also the Oaks quarterback in the Fall, adds 13.5 points per game.
“He might be the best basketball mind we have on the floor,” said Person.
Sophomore guard Westen Hale – cousin to J.D. and son of boys assistant coach Michael Hale – chips in four points per game.
On Semifinal Opponent Ada
Oak Hill has allowed just 41 points per game this season but faces an Ada team that has averaged 62 points of offensive production per game.
“They are a real solid basketball team,” Persin said. “They have some size and everything revolves around Cross and they have excellent players around him.
“They are well-prepared and well-coached. The rebounding aspect is going to be huge and turnovers are going to be huge and every possession for both teams is going to be really, really important.”
A Coaching Legend
Under veteran head coach Richard Kortokrax, who has been at the Kalida helm for 34 years, the Wildcats are 558-214.
With a 784-315 record, Kortokrax is the all-time leader in Ohio for coaching wins.
“My love is there and is a constant. My work ethic is there and is a constant. The constant factor is the coach has the love it and want to put the time into it to do what you need to do,” he said.
“You’ve got to have players that respect you and want to buy into your program. I have been so fortunate to have that privilege and to have so many kids that have done that. I am extremely appreciative of the players that have played for me and very thankful for the coaches I have.
Getting Back To Columbus
Kalida (22-4) is making its fifth appearance in the state tournament having won the title in 1981. It is the first trip to the tournament for the Wildcats since 1988.
“We’re tickled pink to be a part of this year’s state tournament in Columbus because we are very proud of what our kids have accomplished,” Kortokrax said. “We just hope we play well to show the rest of the state what we are proud of.”
Reaching the state tournament seemed like a stretch early in the season for unranked Kalida starting off a mediocre 4-4. But two of those losses came against teams in the state tournament this week (Defiance Tinora in Division III and Ada).
“We have had this idea of going to state for some time,” said Kortokrax. “But when you talk about this specific year, it was difficult for us to think about state because things didn’t come together for us like I hoped.
“We had to play another month or so (into the season) before we started getting some confidence back and win some games. Then we started thinking we could make a run in the tournament.”
When Kalida Has The Ball
It is no secret Kortokrax emphasizes the importance of ‘team’ with his squad.
“We are so team-oriented and if we don’t work together and if we don’t share the basketball we have a very difficult situation,” he said. “It is hard for me to talk about individuals, not that an individual is not important.”
And it is a group of individuals that make up a team.
Senior Justin Kahle runs the point for the Warriors.
“I am very proud of Justin Kahle,” Kortokrax said. “He could score a lot more than what he does but he gives up the ball always looking for the open man.”
In the post, captains Matt Warnecke and Scott Schnipke lead the inside game.
“Our forwards are very unselfish and we look to put the ball inside because we are constantly looking to embrace the inside game as well as the outside game,” he said.
Wing Ryan Kleman can contribute on offense but Kortokrax likes what he brings to the court with his defense.
Center Jordan Bassinger is the lone junior starter and has developed his game well in his career, according to Kortokrax.
“He has come along real well with his game for us over the last couple of years and fits well with our seniors,” he said.
Bassinger had 22 points and 20 rebounds in the 46-41 regional final win over Toledo Christian.
On Semifinal Opponent Lutheran East
Kortokrax feels Lutheran East poses a challenge for Kalida unlike any it has seen this season.
“There is no question that I am very concerned about this game,” he said. “We have nothing (from this season) to compare to this type of team. Nobody on our schedule and nobody in the tournament can compare to the athleticism of this team.
“It is going to be a very difficult game for us but we take pride in the fact that we have tried to bring our kids along for each game both mentally and physically the best we can.
“We have had a real good season up to this point and we hope we can be competitive. It is going to be difficult to compete against the personnel that (Lutheran East) has.”
Kortokrax is mainly concerned about how his team matches up with Lutheran East size-wise.
“The tallest we can stretch anyone who is a starter is 6-foot-3 and we’re going up against a team that is larger who all have athleticism,” he said. “What we try to do is convince (our team) of the fact they can’t be defeated. We’re going to get shots blocked but we’re going to have to establish our inside game to the best of our ability.
“It really is a mind game fur us right now.”
Falcons Fly High
Lutheran East made its only other state tournament appearance in 2005 and the Falcons brought home the hardware after Columbus Africentric was forced to forfeit the title for playing an ineligible player.
“We have truly been blessed to have some good student athletes here at the school and this certainly has been a fun time for all of us here at the high school and the Lutheran community,” third-year head coach Roger McClinton said.
“It is truly an honor to make it back to state to participate in the state tournament.”
No. 3 Lutheran East (23-2) played a daunting regular season schedule with eight Division I teams on the docket. The Falcons answered the challenge going 7-1 against those teams with its only loss coming against area rival Cleveland Heights.
“I have always scheduled Division I teams. I am firm believer that you get better when you play the better teams,” McClinton said. “The only difference between Division I and Division IV is the number of boys (enrolled at the school). There is no difference in talent and we have had a lot of talent here at Lutheran East and I have a great coaching staff. Without them, we could not prepare like we do.
“We knew coming into this season we had a tough schedule but we played together and worked together.”
When Lutheran East Has The Ball
The Falcons like to move the ball up and down the court and prefer to dictate a fast paced tempo.
“We like to get out and run at every opportunity and run a half court offense,” said McClinton. “We’ve been able to adapt to teams that have made us slow the ball down. We have some talented athletes and basketball is about running.”
Senior forward William Felder was named the Division IV Player of the Year in the Northeast District with 24 points and 12 rebounds per game.
“He is an outstanding athlete and is just a very good kid,” McClinton said of the 6-foot-6 St. Francis (Pa.) signee.
The other half of the ‘Twin Towers’ – as McClinton refers to his post players – is 6-foot-5 senior Ladell Trotty. He is good for 16 points per game.
“(Felder and Trotty) play very well together,” said McClinton.
Senior point guard Bradley Stevenson nets 12 points per contest with senior guard Luqman Sabir adding eight points and eight assists.
Center Robert Martin is the lone junior starter and also adds eight points per game and pulls down eight rebounds.
Marlon Pickens, Taylor Calhoun and Amir Robinson all contribute valuable minutes off the bench for the Falcons.
On Semifinal Opponent Kalida
McClinton is familiar with Kalida’s program under Kortokrax and knows what his squad is up against.
“They do a great job. They have a great coach and staff and have a very good basketball team,” he said. “When you get into the tournament you have to worry about everybody. Our first 20 games were just scrimmages and now we are playing for all the marbles.
“Every team that has made it to the state is good and we’re just going to play Falcon basketball and just do the things that we have been doing all year.
He added, “This is a fun time for (us) and this is what (we) have been waiting for. I am not concerned about the way (we) are going to play because we have been focused throughout the whole tournament and we need to play like we know we can play.”
Division IV State Basketball Tournament Vitals
Thursday, March 26
Kalida vs. Cleveland Lutheran East, 10:45 p.m.
Ada vs. Oak Hill, 2:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 28
Division IV Championship: 10:45 a.m.
Boys Enrollment: 111
Final 2009 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2009, 1923
Head Coach: Chris Sautter
School Rec.: 104-54 (7 yrs.)
PPG: 62.0; OPP: 42.0
F 25 Mitchell Faine, 6-3, Jr., 12.4 ppg
F 31 Brandon Dysert, 6-3, Sr., 5.1 ppg
C 51 Aaron Cross, 6-6, Sr., 11.0 ppg
G 15 Konnor Baker, 6-2, Fr., 11.7 ppg
G 21 Kyle Baker, 6-1, Sr., 8.0 ppg
Oak Hill (23-2)
Location: Oak Hill
Boys Enrollment: 133
Final 2009 Ranking: 4th
State Appearances: 2009
Head Coach: Norm Persin
School Rec.: 59-17 (3 yrs.)
PPG: 66.0; OPP: 41.0
F 21 Ryan Borden, 6-2, Sr., 12.5 ppg
F 10 Jesse Slone, 6-3, So., 10.0 ppg
C 44 JD Hale, 6-5, Sr., 17.5 ppg
G 11 Kyle Ondera, 6-1, Jr., 13.5 ppg
G 13 Westen Hale, 6-0, So., 4.0 ppg
Boys Enrollment: 77
Final 2009 Ranking: Not Ranked
State Appearances: 2009, 1988, 1981, 1980, 1967
Head Coach: Richard Kortokrax
School Rec.: 558-214 (34 yrs.)
PPG: 55.0; OPP: 45.0
F 20 Matt Warnecke, 6-2, Sr., n/a ppg
F 34 Scott Schnipke, 6-3, Sr., n/a ppg
C 22 Ryan Kleman, 6-2, Sr., n/a ppg
C 54 Jordan Basinger, 6-3, Jr., n/a ppg
G 10 Justin Kahle, 5-11, Sr., n/a ppg
Lutheran East (23-2)
Location: Cleveland Heights
Boys Enrollment: 57
Final 2009 Ranking: 3rd
State Appearances: 2009, 2005
Head Coach: Roger Mc Clinton
School Rec.: 98-43 (6 yrs.)
PPG: 72.0; OPP: 56.0
F 32 William Felder, 6-6, Sr., 24.0 ppg
F 22 Ladell Trotty, 6-5, Sr., 16.0 ppg
C 52 Robert Martin, 6-3, Jr., 8.0 ppg
G 12 Bradley Stevenson, 6-1, Sr., 12.0 ppg
G 10 Luqman Sabir, 5-7, Sr., 8.0 ppg
Semifinals: Ada over Oak Hill; Kalida over Lutheran East
Finals: Ada over Kalida