It wasn’t expected because they hadn’t played. But by night’s end no one, not even a coach, doubted that the Marion Flyers were at a disadvantage…because they just know how to win.
St. Henry – Uh, in holiday vernacular you could make the case that the Marion Local Flyers left a big lump of coal in their neighbor’s stocking Friday night.
You see, the Flyers were opening their 2016-17 basketball season against St. Henry, exactly two weeks after winning the Division VI football title.
So, you ask? What’s the diff?
Well, St. ‘Hank’ had already played four games, won three, had a half dozen scrimmages under their belt, and were prohibitive favorites because it’s a tough transition to make in two weeks…football skills to basketball skills, shooting touch and all that.
But no one told Marion Local you’re not supposed to win basketball games just because you haven’t played – because you haven’t gotten your shooting touch yet!
The Flyers promptly went out and shot 52% from the floor (24-46), hit 65% from the foul line (12-17), and made BIG free throws in the last minute of the game to secure a 61-53 win after St. Henry had put on a furious fourth quarter rush. Trailing by as much as 15 points in the second half, the Redskins cut the deficit to a single point with two minutes left in the game, but could never take the lead. In fact…they NEVER led in the game. That’s how dominant the Marion effort was.
By quarters they led 12-4, 28-16, 45-35, and 61-53 at the end – an absolute physical slugfest between teams that knew going in that neither was going down without a fight.
A total of 41 fouls were called; and it could have easily been 61.
At times there were so many bodies on the floor wrestling for the ball it looked like Australian Rules football…or rugby.
Marion had 25 turnovers – St. Henry had 12.
There were so many whistles it sounded like the woodwind ensemble of the Cincinnati Symphony.
And in the end St. Henry simply could not reach the summit, or get over the hump even after huge three-point shots from Tyler Schlarman and Curtis Uhlenhake helped them cut the margin to that 50-49 deficit with two minutes to go. The Marines had an easier time, it seemed, taking Iwo Jima.
“You know, I teach with Geron Stokes at Minster,” said Marion coach Kurt Goettemoeller afterwards. “And he told me this week to just go out and play Marion defense…and rebound. So what if you’re offense isn’t up to speed yet. Just go play like Marion Local; and that’s what we did.
“I’m so proud of my guys, obviously. We had to defend like crazy, and we had to rebound. We had to become the Marion maulers tonight. We knew we had to beat them on the glass because we expected our offense was going to be behind. We had to defend, we had to rebound, and we had to be the most aggressive team and I think we were all three of those things tonight.”
Rebounds? You want to talk about rebounds? St. Henry shot a struggling 34% from the field (19 of 55). Marion out-rebounded the Redskins by a margin of 40-16, led by 6’5” sophomore Nathan Bruns, who actually was the Marion mauler on the boards, leading both teams with 10.
“He was probably the unsung hero for us tonight,” said teammate Tyler Mescher of Bruns, who struggled to find his own basketball legs after 15 weeks of football. “But all our guys contributed tonight.
“We started out last Wednesday, so we’ve had a little over a week of practice. We all love basketball and some days we’d come in for three or four hours. It was a little bit of mind over matter. We knew that if we came in and were physical, played our game, we’d be fine. We knew we’d have the physical advantage.”
A point about which St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck could not disagree.
“Every year we try to prepare the guys for the athleticism, size, and strength of Marion Local,” said Rosenbeck. “And for whatever reason I need to do a better job. They hit some big shots tonight and that didn’t surprise me, even though they hadn’t played. Whenever we let them dictate what happens and we’re reactionary…bad things happen. We were reactionary to their physical play tonight. They were the aggressive team and we never forced them to react to us. They put themselves in position to make those shots and give them credit…they made them.”
But down by 12 at the half St. Henry slowly chipped away…a shot here by Curtis Uhlenhake (11 pts.), a shot there by Ryan Bruening (11pts.), and another when needed by Tyler Schlarman, who finished with a team-high 16 points.
By the start of the fourth they had whittled it down to 45-35; and the afore-mentioned three-pointers at the outset of the final eight minutes gave hope. Turnovers helped, and by the 1:58 mark the score stood at 50-49 and the packed St. Henry gym was going nuts.
But Marion, and no surprise, simply knows how to win. They never panicked, their lead gone – they just kept playing. Those big shots were made…by Mescher (15 pts.), Bruns (12 pts.), Collin Everman (7 pts.), Jack Buening (6 pts.), Tyler Prenger (8 pts.), Justin Albers at one point (2 pts.), Sam Huelsman, Matt Kahlig, Ryan Koening, et. al. They ALL contributed, as Tyler Mescher said.
But it was Mescher at the end, coolly canning a trio of free throws; it was Everman, who likewise needed to stretch the lead with made free throws…who put the burden back on the shoulders of St. Henry.
“I’m proud of my guys,” repeated Goettemoeller, who himself looked like he’d just laundered his shirt while wearing it. “We simply came out with the right frame of mind. We have some kids who are natural basketball players. They play football, too, and they’re so damned good at it you assume they would struggle to make the transition that quickly.
“Nathan Bruns is coming off an ACL and he played well. Tyler Mescher does what he does. Our guards played well. Our subs played well – the moment wasn’t too big tonight for Justin Albers and Jack Buening. And Matt Kahlig has only practiced this week. I’m just really pleased, because St. Henry’s good, and we’re so young they might not have figured us out yet.”
More than one made the point as they left for their bus back to Maria Stein…those guys had played four games. All we had was six practices.
No one’s going to call it a Christmas miracle; or even a miracle on route 119.
But you could make the case that on opening night…Marion Local left a lump of coal in the ‘Skins’ stockings.