Nine treys fuel Manchester triumph –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
Coming into the 2016 McDonald’s Classic, Coach Josh White and his West Union Dragons had high expectations. Even coming off a tough overtime loss to Peebles, the Dragons hoped to make some noise in the Classic and get a rematch with the Indians in the championship game, but that was not to be the case.
In the Dec. 27 semi-finals, the Dragons were lackluster at best and dropped a 68-53 decision to North Adams, sending them to the Classic consolation game on Dec. 29, where they turned in an even more disappointing performance as they lost their second game in three nights.
On the other side, Coach Joey Darnell and his Manchester Greyhounds were coming off a win over Piketon heading into the Classic and in their semi-final match up, held their own with the favored Peebles Indians until a late surge sent the Indians to victory. In their consolation contest with West Union, the Greyhounds were on fire, getting seven three-pointers from senior Kaulen Cox as they rolled by the listless Dragons by a final score of 82-58 to take the Classic’s third place trophy.
“This was a big win for us,” said Coach Darnell in his post game radio interview. “We played well tonight. We knew coming in here tonight that West Union was going to be a tough battle and we had to be prepared to play. We shot the ball much better tonight and we shared the ball really well, getting four guys in double figures. That and taking care of the ball I think were keys tonight.”
Though the boys’ consolation contest never really had the feel of being a close game, it was in the early-going as the Dragons put together their best spurt of the game, grabbing a 9-3 lead behind back to back threes by D.J. Welch and Elijah McCarty. That lead was short-lived, however, as Cox banged home back to back treys and Colton Thornburg converted the old-fashioned “and one” to cap a 9-0 run and put the Hounds up 12-9.
The Dragons quickly recovered, with Welch twice getting behind the Manchester defense for baskets and Craig Horton scoring a bucket as a quick 6-0 run put West Union back in front 15-12. Baskets by Jamie Combs and Bryan Young gave the lead back to the Hounds before a late steal and layup by McCarty gave West Union an 18-16 advantage after an entertaining first eight minutes of play.
The second quarter would not be so entertaining for the Dragons and their fans, especially after the Greyhounds opened the frame with a 13-2 run. The run began with the hustle of Bryan Young, as he scored the stanza’s first basket, then grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw to score again and the Hounds were off an running. Three-pointers by Cox and Combs and suddenly Manchester was taking control with a 29-20 lead.
That margin continued to grow as the second period went on, with the Hounds getting back to back buckets from Combs, and another Thornburg three-point play to go up 38-26. A basket by Garrett Vogler and a McCarty free throw with 1:13 left in the half pulled West Union back within single digits, but the Hounds finished the half on a 6-0 run, capped off by an odd play where Thornburg misjudged the clock and forced a up a heave from half court that landed directly in the hands of Combs, who scored, was fouled and hit the free throw to send Manchester to the locker room with all the momentum and a 45-29 lead.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Greyhounds came out of the locker room and hit a demoralized West Union squad with another 10-0 run, with two baskets by Young and another Cox three pushing the lead out to 55-29, before West Union finally scored their first second half points on a pair of Jared Fenton free throws at the 3:39 mark of the third quarter.
Those free throws were followed by Cox dialing long distance again as the Hounds continued to dominate. The high point of the evening for the Dragons may have came in the waning seconds of the third period as McCarty banked one in from mid-court at the buzzer, but that only left his team trailing 62-38 as the fourth quarter began.
The Dragons opened the final frame with a pair of J.J. Kramer free throws, but the Hounds responded with a perfectly executed side out of bounds play that resulted in a Young layup and then the senior forward hit two from the foul line to make it 66-40. Three-point goals by Cox and Combs extended the advantage before an 8-2 West Union run on baskets by Ryan Rothwell, Horton, and a pair by Welch, but that only cut their deficit to 74-52.
Down the stretch, the Hounds got a 6-0 run and the Dragons cored the game’s final three points as Manchester took home the Classic third-place trophy with the 82-58 victory.
On their biggest offensive night of the season to this point, the Greyhounds placed four players in double figures, led by Cox’s seven three-pointers and 25 total points. Manchester got 19 points each from Combs and Young, with Thornburg adding 17. With his performance over two games, Thornburg earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team and the Hounds improved their record to 4-7 on the season.
“We told the kids not to get suck on a 3-7 record coming in,” said Coach Darnell. From top to bottom, we have played probably the toughest schedule in the league so far and I feel like the second half of our schedule is in our favor a little Moving forward, tonight was a good win for us to build on. This tournament is always good, always good for our kids to play in this atmosphere.”
West Union dropped to 1-7 and had three players in double figures, led by 14 points from Welch. McCarty added 13 and Rothwell 12 for the Dragons, with McCarty getting the nod on the All-tournament squad.
(The Dragons dropped to 1-8 on the season in their first game after the holiday break as they fell to Bethel-Tate 53-47 on Jan. 3).
16 29 17 20 –82
18 11 9 20 –58
Manchester (82): Combs 8 1-1 19, Thornburg 7 3-4 17, Bilyeu 1 0-0 2, Young 8 3-6 19, Cox 9 0-0 25, Team 33 7-13 82.
W. Union (58): Welch 6 1-2 14, Fuller 2 2-2 6, Vogler 1 0-0 2, McCarty 5 1-2 13, Campbell 0 0-1 0, Rothwell 5 2-3 12, Kramer 0 3-4 3, Horton 2 0-6 4, Fenton 0 4-4 4, Team 21 13-24 58.
Manchester (9): Cox 7, Combs 2
W. Union (3): Welch 1, McCarty 2