The Redskins got a storybook ending, and a packed house to witness it, to continue their improbable post-season run.
Piqua – The Boys Division IV Sectional basketball tournament has the reputation of being one of the finest in the state.
Friday night, the Fort Loramie Redskins and Russia Raiders added another chapter to that outstanding tradition.
Sophomore Evan Berning scored on a drive to snap a 50-all tie and senior Drew Werhman blocked Russia’s game winning attempt at the horn to lift fifth-seeded Fort Loramie to a heart-stopping 52-51 win over second seeded Russia at Garbry Gym.
The win is the resurgent Redskins’ 7th in 8 games and sends them to the district finals next week with a record of 13-12. Russia, which won two narrow decisions over the Redskins during the season, finishes an outstanding campaign at 21-4.
“That was a whale of a basketball game,” beamed Redskins coach Corey Britton, who may have set a school record for the high jump when the final horn went off, at least a record for basketball coaches. “This was a game that you hated to see someone lose, because both teams played their hearts out. We were just fortunate and lucky enough to come out one point ahead.”
“We knew it was going to be a battle. Anytime you get Russia and Fort Loramie together, you can throw the records out the window. Our kids weathered a lot of things tonight. They hit us with a run to start the second half and got the lead, then we came back, they went up again, and our kids just responded all night.”
“For my seniors, my heart is broken for them,” said a red-eyed Raiders coach Spencer Cordonnier outside a silent Russia locker-room. “This group worked harder before and during the season than any other team I have seen or been a part of. We got what we wanted there at the end, but they made a good play. Hats off to Loramie, they made one more play than we did.”
Facing the Raiders for the third time this season, the Redskins went on a 10-3 run to start the second quarter and open a 25-17 lead. Russia got three pointers from Jonah Counts and Dylan Cordonnier and went 11 for 11 at the free throw line in the period to climb back to within 30-29 at the half.
Business, as they say, really picked up in the second half. Threes by Counts and Jake Gariety to open the third quarter gave Russia a 35-30 lead, but this time the Redskins responded, tying the game at 39 on a steal and layup by Berning. Russia had an answer this time, when its own sophomore standout, Jack Dapore, banked in a three at the buzzer for a 42-39 Raiders lead after 3.
“That was déjà vu,” Britton said with a smile. “The same thing happened to us at the end of the third quarter last year, only from about three-quarters court. We just kept playing. We held on and held on, and we are just so happy to be in this situation right now. Our kids have progressed so much, and we have turned into a really, really good basketball team.”
With the crowd on its feet the entire fourth quarter, both teams played their best basketball. Dillon Braun, who had been quiet all night, made some noise with a three from the left corner to give the Redskins a 50-47 lead, only to have Gariety tie it 14 seconds later with a triple of his own from the top of the key.
After Berning gave the Redskins the lead, Dylan Cordonnier was fouled for the Raiders with 25 seconds left. He made the first free throw but missed the second. After a Loramie turnover, Gariety missed a three and Tyler Siegel rebounded for the Redskins. He got tangled up in traffic under the basket, went to the floor, and was called for traveling.
The Raiders had 2.2 seconds to work with, and after three timeouts, in-bounded the ball to Josh York. He dribbled once and went up for the shot, only to have it deflected away by Wehrman as the horn sounded, setting off a wild celebration on the Redskins’ bench.
“I just wanted to make sure they didn’t get anything easy,” said the 5-10 Wehrman, who finished with 16 points, 13 in the first half. “Just get in the way and don’t give them a good look.”
“Drew had a great night,” praised his coach. “He’s been great for us all season. He was our only returning starter from last year. All of our seniors have been great. Real leaders, reasons we are where we are.”
“We lost a lot of close games,” Wehrman said, referring to the Redskins dismal 6-11 start. “We knew we were a good team, but things weren’t clicking. Now they are and we are starting to roll.”
“We didn’t change anything from when we were 6-11,” said Britton., “The kids kept working and now they are starting to see the benefit of all that work. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Berning joined Wehrman in double figures with 13, while Siegel added 11. Russia got 11 from Gariety, 10 from Jonah Counts off the bench, and 8 from Dapore, all in the third quarter.
The Redskins finished the night 19 of 43 from the floor for 44%, while the Raiders were 16 of 40 for 40%. Loramie was 4 of 10 on three pointers, while the Raiders were 6 of 14. Both teams were good from the free throw line, Loramie 10-13 for 77% and Russia 13-15 for 87%.
Not many teams out-rebound Russia, but the Redskins did 24-17, and both teams took care of the ball as the Raiders had 9 turnovers to the Redskins 11.
“It was Russia-Fort Loramie,” said Cordonnier. “I really don’t have any other words for it. We knew how well Loramie was playing. They played us down to the wire twice during the regular season. It was exactly what we expected. Hats off to Fort Loramie, and I don’t think they’re done. I think they have a great chance to get to the regional.”
Wehrman called the chance to play at UD Arena next week “awesome.”
“We went as sophomores, and I just wanted to go back, to be able to play on that floor for our fans. Our fans were so great tonight. Everytime we got down, they just kept motivating us to come back. It was great.”
“These kids had a great season, a sensational season,” Cordonnier concluded, heading out to meet his family. “They exceeded our expectations. They worked hard in practice and played hard every night, I am extremely proud of them.”
Meanwhile, it might take a while to get the smile off Britton’s face.
“I told our coaching staff that I just had a feeling that by the end of the year, we were going to be a really good basketball team, said Britton, as he accepted congratulations from the faithful. “It took longer than we hoped for, but our kids get all the credit. They bought in, and they kept fighting. We lost to St Henry by one, we were down two to Fort recovery late in the fourth quarter, we played Russia and Jackson Center down to the wire twice. We just didn’t finish. Tonight, we finished. We told them to do the little things and finish. And that’s what our kids did.”
(Edited by Julie McMaken Wright)