Dragons’ season ends in disappointing sectional defeat to Southeastern –
By Mark Carpenter –
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
A magical season that had seen the West Union varsity boys basketball squad rise like a phoenix from the ashes and ascend to their first Southern Hills Athletic Conference championship since 1989 came to a crashing halt last Friday night at Waverly High School.
Under the guidance of first-year head coach Greg Himes, the Dragons had rolled to a 15-5 record and captured the fancy of local basketball fans that had lost interest in the team in recent years. Picked in the pre-season by the SHAC coaches to finish last in the conference’s big school division, the Dragons had proven those prognosticators wrong and seemed poised for an exciting tournament run.
The Southeastern Panthers had other ideas.
Taking advantage of a rare horrible shooting night by West Union, the Panthers broke open a halftime deadlock, holding the Dragons to just six points in the third quarter, and on a night where West Union shot just 19 for 65 from the field, the dream ended as the Panthers captured the Southeast District Division III Sectional title, handing the Dragons a disappointing 69-54 defeat.
“We just missed some easy shots that we normally make,” said Coach Himes in a postgame interview. “You’re playing here in a different atmosphere, playing a little tighter. Sometimes that just happens but our kids still gave everything they had tonight.”
The shooting woes did not effect the Dragons in an exciting, fast-paced first quarter. It looked to all in attendance, including a rather large contingent of fans in green, that the contest was going to be a high-scoring exciting affair after an opening eight minutes that saw two ties and nine lead changes.
The Dragons got a pair of Ryan Rothwell three-pointers in that first period and another from Elijah McCarty that send them to the second stanza with a 19-17 advantage.
Sophomore Zane Kingsolver, who would have a monster night, began the second quarter with two free throws that gave the Dragons a four-point lead, but the Panthers answered with seven straight, including a three ball from Rex Hartman, who led all scorers with 26 points. West Union responded with a baskets by Garrett Vogler, McCarty, and Kingsolver, and when “super sub” Eli Fuller scored with less than a minute left, the two sides were all even at 29 at the halftime break.
The West Union faithful, though a bit worried, were still happy to have a halftime tie, but that happiness vanished quickly in a third period totally dominated by the Panthers. While the Dragons were out of character and forcing shots that had no chance, Southeastern broke a 33 all tie with a 10-2 run to close out the third, taking a 43-35 lead and never looking back.
“They just got the momentum at times and answered our runs and we didn’t answer theirs,” said Coach Himes. “It was just one of those games where our shots didn’t fall and our defense didn’t pick up at times.”
Vogler began the final stanza with a three-pointer that kept the Dragons within striking distance, but a later 8-0 run by Southeastern pushed the Panther lead to double digits and forced West Union into the unenviable position of having to foul to preserve clock and possessions.
That strategy was hopeless, however, as the Southeastern squad made the charity stripe their second home in the final quarter of the game, nailing 17 of 21 free throws in the fourth to bring an end to the West Union season and close out the 15-point win that improved their record to 11-13 on the season and allowed them to cut down the nets as sectional champions.
The Panthers were led by Hartman’s 26 points, with big man Reese Wheeler adding 15 along with 9 rebounds. Southeastern will now make the trek to the Convocation Center at Ohio University to face Eastern Pike in a March 3 district semi-final battle.
In the season-ending loss, the Dragons were led by Kingsolver, who despite spending the day sick with a fever of 102 degrees, put together a 16 point, 20 rebound performance (including a perfect 8 for 8 from the foul line) to keep the Dragons in contention as long as they did. Elijah McCarty added 11. with Ryan Rothwell, Garrett Vogler, and Eli Fuller all scoring 7.
West Union bids farewell to a senior class that will long be remembered for bringing the spark back to Dragon basketball- McCarty, Vogler, Fuller, Jared Fenton, and Mason Fannin.
“I am so proud of our seniors and what they accomplished this season,” said Himes. “When I took this job last summer, I wanted us to win the McDonald’s Classic and the conference title. We were able to do that and these guys have raised the bar here for expectations in the future.”
17 12 14 26 –69
19 10 6 19 –54
Southeastern (69): Stauffer 2 1-2 5, Gillum 0 6-8 6, Hartman 9 5-6 26, Ruby 2 4-5 9, Minney 0 2-2 2, Dresbach 3 0-0 6, Wheeler 6 3-4 15, Team 22 21-27 69.
W. Union (54): Rothwell 3 1-1 9, Fuller 3 0-0 7, Vogler 3 0-0 7, McCarty 4 2-2 11, Tomlin 1 0-0 2, Campbell 1 0-0 2, Kingsolver 4 8-8 16, Team 19 11-11 54.
Southeastern (4): Hartman 3, Ruby 1
W. Union (5): Rothwell 2, Fuller 1, Vogler 1, McCarty 1