Piqua was within eight minutes of pulling the upset of the season, but a Sidney sophomore (no, not that one) had other ideas and led the Yellowjackets to their 16th win of the season.
Piqua—The Sidney Yellowjackets came to Garbry Gym looking for a win that would clinch the GWOC North title.
The Piqua Indians made them work 32 minutes to get it.
Piqua trailed by just 2 after three quarters, but the Yellowjackets, led by sophomore Ratez Roberts, pulled away in the final minutes for a hard-earned 55-45 win and a sweep of the regular season series. Sidney had won easily at home in December.
“Piqua did a good job,” praised Sidney head coach John Willoughby. “We knew they would slow the game down. That’s what teams have been doing to us. It hasn’t always worked; we have won games where people have done that to us. But it makes it tighter because of fewer possessions. They hold the ball and hold the ball, and then when we get it, we think we have to score right away. We want to run, but we have to do a better job in the half court when transition isn’t there.”
“We played with a lot of heart tonight,” said Piqua coach Heath Butler. “It’s not easy for a couple of reasons. First, we haven’t had a lot of success this season. Two, to get the kids to buy in when you present a game-plan like this, and three to execute it. I couldn’t be happier with every player on this team, because they all contributed to that effort tonight.”
Roberts, who entered the game averaging 11 points a game, scored 8 points in the decisive fourth quarter, and 12 in the second half as Sidney improved to 16-4, 12-1 in the GWOC North. Piqua falls to 5-14, and 3-10 in the Division.
Just for clarification, the Jackets have lost to Wapakoneta, Fairmont , Centerville and Tippecanoe. In those 4 games, they have averaged 46 points. In their 16 wins, they have averaged just under 70.
In the teams’ first meeting, Sidney raced to a 19-3 lead en route to an easy 68-31 win. This time, the game was tied three times in the first quarter and the Indians led 13-11 at the break.
The Yellowjackets appeared to take control in the second, when the Indians committed three straight turnovers, and missed several shots close to the rim. Piqua settled down before the half, and scored the final 6 points of the quarter to send the teams to the locker-rooms even at 22.
A Ben Schmiesing three early in the third gave the Indians a 27-24 lead, but that would be their last advantage of the night. Again, turnovers and missed opportunities in close fueled a 9-0 Sidney run that put the Jackets on top 33-27. The Indians made another run before the break, and a three by Nick Rigola had the Indians within 35-33 after three.
Sidney finally got some breathing room in the fourth quarter, as they made 7 of 10 shots from the floor. The Yellowjackets almost gave the game away at the free throw line, making just 5 of 12 down the stretch and 7 of 18 on the night.
Robert’s 8 points, along with 4 from Andre Gordon and 4 from Isaiah Bowser were enough to keep the Indians at bay down the stretch as Sidney won for the 21st time in 37 meetings since the 1999-2000 season.
“I felt like I had to step up for my team,” said Roberts. “People are running that box and one and someone needed to step up. He (Gordon) is getting triple teamed, so someone has to be open. He does a great job of finding me with the ball.”
“Ratez has been pretty steady all season,” exclaimed Willoughby. “He has great hands and makes some great catches. He’s good at finding that opening between defenders, and when he catches the ball he goes to the rim. Andre is a great passer and it’s been a good combination.”
“We had our chances,” Butler lamented. “We missed some layups, and we lost the Gordon kid a couple of times in transition, and you just can’t do that. He’s that good. When you play a low possession game you can’t afford turnovers or missed open shots, and that was the difference tonight.”
Roberts finished with 18 and Gordon joined his sophomore teammate in double figures with 13, while Devan Rogers and Bowser both had 7. Ben Schmiesing, the Indians leading scorer on the season, made three treys and finished with a game high 20. Hayden Schrubb and Nate Monnin each added 8 for the Indians.
“Andre wants to be spectacular every time he has the ball, and we need to get that out of him a little bit,” Willoughby went on. “He’s capable and you know more times than not he will come through. He has a lot on his shoulders and we all know that. He’s a great kid, first and foremost, and he knows what’s going on, that’s what’s nice about him.”
Sidney was 22 of 46 from the floor for 48%, while the Indians shot 17 of 42 for 40%. Piqua was 5 of 16 from the arc for 31% and Sidney was 4 of 11 for 36%. Sidney’s miserable night at the line figured to 39%, but the Indians didn’t get to the line enough, making 6 of just ten chances.
Roberts said the win was important for the Yellowjackets.
“This a game we really wanted to win. It clinches the GWOC north title and that’s been a goal all season long. We still have some things to work on, but we are ready to get back in practice and get ready for the tournament.”
Butler said the effort spoke volumes about his team.
“We don’t believe in moral victories,” the 6th year coach explained. “This game tells me that we are getting ready for the tournament. We have Elida here tomorrow night (Saturday), go to Greenville Tuesday, and finish up with Troy where you can make a lot of memories. This game says that we haven’t packed it in, we are still willing to work hard, and I really believe that there will still be good things ahead for this team.”
Meanwhile the Jackets have the most regular season wins since Tom Clark’s 1999-2000 squad went 17-3. Does Willoughby think his team is tournament ready?
“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. “We need to get to the point mentally, and in our preparation, that every game means something to us. That mindset that every game is a big game. I don’t think we are there yet. Sometimes I don’t see the passion and energy that says they are fortunate to be on the basketball floor. Where they give it everything they have every time out. I don’t see that game in and game out. People don’t realize but we are still a very young team. As they mature, hopefully, they will get to that point.”