Bob Knight might be the most well known coach from Orrville, but Steve
Smith is it’s most beloved. Thursday, one of Smith’s former players –
Sly Slaughter – led the Red Riders one step closer to the most fitting
tribute imaginable for the old coach – a state title.
COLUMBUS – Bob Knight might be the most well known coach from Orrville, but Steve Smith is it’s most beloved. Thursday, one of Smith’s former players – Sly Slaughter – led the Red Riders one step closer to the most fitting tribute imaginable for the old coach – a state title.
In the Division III state semifinals before a crowd of 10,823 at OSU’s Schottenstein Center, Orrville – thanks in part to two free throws by Samuel Miller with 1.8 seconds left – grinded out a 50-48 win over Columbus Bishop Ready. With the win, Orrville advances to its first state title game since Smith led the Red Riders to the D-II state championship in 1996. Smith, who passed away from cancer five years ago, also led Orrville to D-III state championships in 1995 and 1992. His 1980 team was a state semifinalist.
The current group of Red Riders – led by Slaughter, who starred on Smith’s 1992 team – hopes to hang another banner. Speaking of which…
“I just tried to picture myself back in the gym in Orrville and make everyone else disappear,” Miller said of his decisive free throws. “My teammates had faith in me. They knew I was going to make it.”
The same can’t be said of Slaughter – sort of.
With this being his first year at Orrville, Slaughter said he was put on the spot several times last year when he got the job.
“One of the things that makes this so great is that when I got hired a lot of people said how are you going to do this? How are you going to coach?,” Slaughter said. “I said I’m going to coach the only way I know how to coach and the way I know comes from Coach Smith. That’s the only way I know how to play basketball.”
Thursday that way worked.
Despite trailing 13-9 after the first quarter, Orrville rallied to take a 21-20 lead at the break. In the third quarter the Red Riders expanded their lead to 35-25 with 4:22 to go in the period before the wheels fell of. Ready responded with a 17-2 run over the next eight minutes to take a 42-37 lead with four minutes to play. Orrville called a timeout to regroup.
“I think I heard (Coach Smith) in the background but it might have been Rocky instead,” Slaughter said jokingly, referring to Smith’s son, an Orrville assistant. “Coach Smith would have said a couple things in that huddle, but this team is a little different than we were. We were a team that even though we were motivated, it took him to push us. This team doesn’t really need a whole lot of yelling and screaming.”
That’s exactly what the Red Riders rally produced, though.
Orrville closed the game on a 13-6 run and put the contest away at the free throw line. Despite hitting just 10-of-17 free throws for the game, the Red Riders hit their last six, including four from Zach Wasson in the final two minutes and then Miller’s with less than two seconds left.
Wasson and Jacob Bolyard led Orrville with 13 points apiece, while Miller chipped in 12.
Ready was led by Joe Graessle (16 points) and Cody Culbertson (11).
“We made up our mind that when we got in high school we were going to go to the state championship game,” Miller said. “Now that we’re this close we’ve got to go all out. We’ve got a shot to win it.”
Said Slaughter: “It would be huge. Not just because of the things that Coach Smith did and the fact that I played for him, but for our community in general. Our community has waited and waited for something to get excited about.”
Added Bolyard: “We want to bring back another state title to Orrville. We want to re-start the tradition.”