By Gary R. Rasberry
COLUMBUS — For most of the season, Saturday nights were a good thing for the Marion Local Flyers.
After going just 2-7 during Friday nights in Midwest Athletic Conference competition, the Flyers had a better time on Saturdays during the season, losing just once in eight Saturday games.
This past Saturday marked the first time in a month that Marion Local had to play on Saturday.
The good times did not hold up.
A cold shooting night was amplified by getting dominated on the boards as the Flyers lost to Holgate in the Division IV state championship game, 40-32, at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University.
The Flyers (17-10) were denied their chance to become the 16th school to repeat as state champions after winning the small-school title last year. Holgate, which had not been to the state final four since 1953, ends its season at 21-6.
The 32 points the Flyers scored was the lowest point total by a losing team in the small-school final since 1946 when Worthington was held to 32 points by Farmer, now a part of the Fairview school system.
It was a night of frustrations for coach Keith Westrick and his program. The Tigers’ defensive style did not allow an inside game to take root, with Marion scoring just six points in the paint, and the outside pressure made for a number of missed shots. The Flyers shot just 26.3 percent (10-of-38) from the field and a paltry 20.8 percent (5-of-24) from beyond the three-point line.
Then there was the Holgate offense. A patient passing game that saw the team take large stretches of time off the clock. The 40 points by Holgate was the lowest point total by a winning team in the final since Marion Pleasant scored 42 in the 1973 Class A final against Indian Valley South.
The Tigers started out the Marion game the same way it ended their semifinal win over South Webster — with a bang.
Blake Sizemore, the hero of the semifinal with his buzzer-beater, hit another three-pointer to start the game against the Flyers. Holgate scored the first five points of the game as its patience mixed with Marion’s poor shooting kept the Flyers from scoring until nearly two minutes into the game. Even when the Flyers could score, they had to do it on one shot. The rebounding of Holgate center Earnest Ferguson made sure the Flyers got just one shot before going the other way. Marion was outrebounded by a 16-8 margin as the Tigers held a 15-8 lead at the halftime break.
Marion coach Keith Westrick kidded that the last time he saw eight points on the scoreboard at the half was back in his junior high coaching days.”
“We have some teams (in the MAC) that have had this effect on us before,” said Westrick. “It was definitely a problem. I thought we’d solve those problems by getting a little stronger fundamentally. We were not ourselves in that first quarter. When we didn’t score quickly, it got into our heads. I don’t think we were nervous to start the game, but we got nervous quickly.”
The play of the game all evening was a physical game. Westrick said from his vantage point, a lot of action was allowed.
“Without seeing the tape, I would say that, on a given night, you see a style of play dictated how the game is called. It was going to be a physical contest,” said Marion Local coach Keith Westrick. “As a team, we’re not physically strong. We ran into our biggest problem when the play was such where you’re allowed to block cutters and that type of stuff. Their defense didn’t allow us to get through the paint. We didn’t attack early on and one of the biggest keys was the rebounds. I told them before the game we had to hold our own on the offensive and defensive glass and we didn’t even come close to that.”
The Tigers made a point to keep Cory Luebke from the bucket. A night after scoring 23 in the win over Sebring McKinley, the pressure by the Tigers held the second team All-Ohio selection to just one point in the half on 0-of-3 shooting.
The Tiger rout continued in the third quarter as Holgate got the lead above double digits at several points throughout the stanza. Holgate’s ability to work its magic against Marion’s vaunted matchup zone — and its control of the ball on offense — forced Westrick to go full-court man-to-man for the rest of the game.
“They attacked our 2-3 well,” said Westrick. “That’s why we got out of it. It got to a point where I knew they would get real patient with the ball, so we went 55 (man defense).”
“We saw angles we wanted to attack,” said Holgate coach Paul Wayne. “It’s easy to tell them what to do. We didn’t have a walk through for Saturday’s game. The kids went out and executed. We only did one or two things different (from usual) our schedule prepares us for what we see in the tournament.”
In the fourth quarter, the Flyers were finally able to get some open looks for outside. Adam Kremer and Luebke hit back-to-back threes to get the deficit to nine with four minutes left. Holgate, already in the double bonus, kept the lead out of reach with some foul shooting. The team was 5-of-12 from the line in the final moments of the game but the game was in hand as the Tigers continued to play a slowdown game to the final horn.
“We created enough open threes in the fourth quarter to get us back into the game,” said Westrick. “In my mind, we created some wide-open looks. Maybe the legs were gone by that time. Maybe we were pushing it a little more. I thought our kids kept their composure in the middle and late fourth quarter trying to crawl back into it.
“I give my kids all the credit in the world because they never quit. That’s the way they played the entire season. They could have folded up the tent. We’re not a man team but we had to go 55 (full-court man pressure). They wanted it bad and it showed. There’s no quit in these guys, that’s what got them here. They could have quit after going 11-9 in the regular season. They might have got the baseball gloves out, but they didn’t and they focused on what they wanted.
“Give Holgate credit too. They’re very disciplined and well-coached. They know how they want to play defense.”
“My hats off to coach Westrick,” said Wayne. “Losing all your starters last year and get back to the state championship game speaks volumes for the program and the kids. They’re warriors, even when they were down 13 (in the fourth quarter), they kept battling. I can’t say enough about our kids. They’re blue-collar players.”
Ferguson scored 14 points and pulled down 11 boards on the way to being named the Outstanding Player of the Tournament by The Associated Press. Teammate Drew Clady hit three three-pointers on his way to scoring 11 and earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
Ryan Winner led Marion Local with 10 points while Luebke finished with eight points and joined Russell Moeller (five points) on the all-tournament team. Sebring’s Dan Scarpetti’s 17-point game against Marion in the semifinals earned him the final spot on the team.