It went overtime, but it didn’t have to. Ft. Loramie’s failure to cash in at the foul line cost them down the stretch in Thursday’s district loss to Southeastern.
UD Arena – In the Naismith manual on how to play basketball, there must somewhere be a paragraph that says a “free throw” is an opportunity to score without defense or recourse by the opponent. Pure and simple.
And pure and simple, Ft. Loramie’s inability to cash in at the foul line in the second half of Thursday’s Division IV district final against the Southeastern Trojans (23-2) cost them a title, 79-71, and an opportunity to extend their already Cinderella run to the end of their season for at least one more game.
And what a pity. “Regional” sounds so good on top of “District”!
In what will be remembered for this basketball season as one of the most entertaining games in the Southwest District tourney gauntlet, Loramie and Southeastern slugged it out, back and forth, for four quarters, with Corey Britton’s young Redskins giving as good as they got for the best part of 24 minutes.
They led at the half, 35-32.
They shot 55% from the floor in the first half, and 50% from three point range (5 of 10).
They outrebounded the 22-2 Trojans by an impressive margin, 17-12.
They had balanced scoring. All five starters scored.
But what they didn’t do was figure a way to corral Southeastern guard Jake Bertemes, son of former Cedarville coach P.J. Bertemes, a whirling dirvish scoring machine who in body language alone ran up and down the floor and figuratively screamed, “stop me if you can.” Loramie (12-12) couldn’t.
Scoring inside and out, Bertemes collected 12 points for the half, an ominous harbinger of things to come.
For their part, Loramie held serve , and the lead throughout most of the second half, but Bertemes and company slowly seized momentum. Running open from baseline to the wings, Bertemes (pronounced Ber-tuh-mus) connected on 5 of 7 three-pointers as the lead changed hands three times over a span of 12 minutes.
Still, Loramie, behind the balanced attack of Drew Werhle (11 pts.), Evan Berning (15 pts.), Dillon Braun (15 pts.) and Tyler Siegel (19 pts), had destiny in hand as Southeastern began running up fouls and sending the Redskins to free throw line in the fourth quarter. But Houston (not How-ston), they had a problem.
A 70% free throw shooting team throughout the regular season, they didn’t hit those “free” opportunities to salt the game away; and not on any one individual, they spread it around.
Three times they missed on the front end of one-and-ones.
Twice they missed both ends of two-shot fouls.
It became epidemic as Southeastern, and Bertemes, kept the pressure on with one tough “make” after another at their end, while Loramie bricked one free throw after another at the other end.
Still, leading 63-61 with under 10 seconds remaining in regulation, Southeastern had the ball and an opportunity to tie. They got a good look on the baseline, but 6’7″ Tyler Siegel forced the shot wide…but right into the hands off an offensive rebounder who collected the bunny and tied the game with 4 seconds remaining. Drew Wehrman missed a desperation “three” on the ensuing possession, and the game went into overtime.
What happened in the final four minutes became pretty much academic. With both teams in the bonus, it became a parade to the foul line. Southeastern cashed in. Loramie cashed out. FINAL SCORE: 79-71.
Loramie coach Corey Britton was disappointed afterwards, but philosophic in the hallway after addressing a quiet locker room.
“We had our chances,” said Britton, whose team finished its year, 12-12, after owning a 6-11 record 17 games into the regular season.
“They made plays down the stretch. You have to give them credit. They’re a good basketball team. But tell you what…I’m proud of our kids. We turned into a really good basketball team this year, and hopefully we can use this as a springboard moving forward. We’re going to miss our six seniors. What they did for our program can’t be measured in terms of wins and losses.”
Ahhhh…but it was so agonizingly close to being more. So much more! And every year it seems the case that at least one Cinderella tournament story gets preempted for the fact of attention to fundamentals; and it doesn’t get more fundamental than making foul shots, with no one guarding, with the game on the line. They finished 19 for 32 (59%). Refer to the manual.
“We shot about 70% for the year from the line,” added Britton. “Tonight…we just didn’t finish. We didn’t close it out. You want to believe in your kids. That’s half the battle. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re in that situation and they did everything we asked them to do. We just missed out on a couple of opportunities and they (Southeastern) made big plays. We can live with that.”
Free throws aside, credit Jake Bertemes, too, who literally carved the heart out of the Redskins, scoring 33 points, shooting 55% from the floor, 60% from three-point range, and unselfish for the fact of sharing the load with teammates Andrew Lyons (19 pts) and Colton Spears (13 pts.)
“He’s a good player,” said Britton. “It was like pick your poison because he scored his first 18 from the paint, and then he made some really tough shots. I thought two or three of his shots were well-contested, but he makes the fade-away from 25 feet with 20 seconds left, and he was also good enough to break you down off the dribble.”
Bertemes is a good player. Overlooked, perhaps, because of his lack of physical stature, he personified the adage about it not being the size of the dog int he fight…but rather, the size of the fight in the dog.
“I was surprised they played me straight as much as they did,” he admitted. “They face-guarded a couple of times, but most of the year I’ve seen box-and-ones and other junk defenses. They (Loramie) didn’t do that tonight.”
So the feel-good ran out of story line at the hands of a team that made the most of their opportunities.
Yet, Britton was able to see the glass half full, waxing philosophic afterwards when asked if when he was 6-11 in January he could have imagined such a positive, and sustaining finish to the Redskins’ season.
“Actually, back then I really did see this coming,” he said. “We had so many close games. We took Russia, Jackson Center and Ft. Recovery down to the wire. We played a quality schedule and it wasn’t like we got beat by 25 points in those games. We were in ’em. We just didn’t finish.”
Pausing for a moment, he added, poignantly, “To be honest, tonight was the first time in six weeks when we didn’t finish. So I’m proud of my kids for the way they battled. I’m proud of what they went through this year and how they handled the adversity.”
And but for the finish he talked about…whiskey, tango, free throws. Who knows, eh?
Curse the manual!