Thursday, March 26th, 2009
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Flyers picked up the first MAC state title
Despite having a noticeably underage lineup during the 1973-74 season, the Marion Local Flyers ended their campaign in the district tournament.
The following year, head coach Irv Besecker began his second season in charge of the Flyers with a sense of hopeful optimism. With only two seniors on the roster, the Flyers kicked off the winter by grabbing five wins in five tries, followed by a date with the St. Henry Redskins, who entered the meeting hitting for 90 points per game.
Powered by a steady dose of defense and a budding confidence, the Flyers held their rivals to the west to just 50 points. Although the air was taken from their sails with a one-point loss to Coldwater, the Flyers didn't sulk, but instead responded with 10 straight wins. The streak set up the climactic conclusion to the regular season against the Minster Wildcats, who were unbeaten and ranked fourth in Class A.
To accommodate an expected overflow crowd, the meeting was relocated to the new and more spacious Fort Recovery Fieldhouse.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the banter which led up to the game held much more bite than the actual contest itself, as the Flyers rolled to a 65-47 victory, securing a tie between the two schools for the Midwest Athletic Conference title.
"Back in the late-70s and early-80s, our rivalry with Minster was one of the biggest in the area, mostly because both teams were very talented and shared a lot of relatives between school districts," pointed out Jeff Luebke, a starter on the 1975 squad. "Beating them by a pretty good margin in that last game was a confidence booster. We felt we could beat anybody at that point."
From there it was on to the postseason, where Marion Local opened with blowouts over Parkway and St. Henry. Their five-point win over Allen East in the district semifinal was a little tighter than expected, but it opened the door for a rematch with Minster, which the Flyers dominated to the tune of 72-43 to claim the school's first-ever district championship.
Besecker's crew proceeded to Bowling Green and launched the regional tournament with a six-point victory over Pettisville. The championship contest was less stressful, as they downed Riverdale, 68-55.
Toting a 23-1 overall record, they headed to Columbus where they hoped to become the second Mercer County team in five years to capture the state crown. There was little hype about the Flyers in Columbus, as most of the media attention focused on Mansfield St. Peter's, whom were dubbed as the favorites to capture state title.
Refusing to be written off prematurely, the Flyers completely dominated St. Pete's in the semifinals, earning a berth in the state championship game with a 67-42 triumph.
"Coach Besecker did an outstanding job preparing us for St. Peter's and keeping us loose," recalled then-junior center Steve "Snake" Hartings. "We had a great group of athletes who weren't at all concerned about individuals, but about the team. On any given night someone would step up and insure our success."
Although the win vaulted the Blue and Gold as immediate favorites to bring the title home, they first had to hurdle Indian Valley South.
The bunch from eastern Ohio was led by veteran head coach Charlie Huggins, and they made things very interesting. Rick Brunswick, the Flyers' emotional sparkplug and predominant ball handler, was inactive for nearly the entire second quarter after three untimely fouls, as the Flyers clung to a 22-21 lead at halftime.
They extended their lead to three points after three quarters at 37-34, but "Snake" spent much of the period on the bench in foul trouble as well, after hitting for 15 points in the first half.
Brunswick went back into the battle and took immediate control, as he scored five field goals and dished out two assists in the last period. With 39 seconds left in regulation however, he and Hartings were both seated with five fouls and a combined 34 points. When regulation concluded, the contest was knotted at 54 points.
"At age 17, I was extremely frustrated because anyone who was watching the game knows I never touched the guy to get that fifth foul," Hartings chuckled. "Now looking back on it, it is really cool to see the true effort that the other guys put forth at that moment. They were truly a group who loved being around one another and loved the game."
With two of his stars sitting, Besecker's needed ingredient derived from clutch free throws by Luebke and Howie Overman.
Luebke, whose grandfather's funeral was the same day, hit three of his 12 points early in the overtime period. Although Overman only connected on less than 50 percent of his free throws during the season, he added a pair with three seconds to play which pushed the Flyers ahead, 59-56, and awarding them the Midwest Athletic Conference's first-ever state championship.
"The fact that we were the first MAC team to win a state championship means a lot," Luebke reminisced. "We probably were not any different than any of the teams from the area that followed us - we were all good friends and we loved playing basketball and things aren't any different now than they were then. Any one of three teams could have won that year, we were the fortunate ones."
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