It wasn’t that anyone ever doubted that they might win the league, but two months ago no one thought it possible that Marion Local would do it by running the table. Friday night…they proved them wrong.
Maria Stein – Let’s not write about numbers and stats.
For a change, let’s write about what’s “sweet”, what’s “awesome”, and even a “longshot”.
For two months ago, a day after Marion Local lost to Coldwater 53-49 on December 29 in a holiday tournament game, some people would have called Kurt Goettemoeller’s Flyers a longshot to not only win the Midwest Athletic Conference basketball title…but to win it in unthinkable fashion.
Friday, they did just that. They withstood a gritty first half performance by that same Coldwater Cavalier team to lead at the break, 28-25…then put their foot on the gas on both ends of the court to outscore and bury the Cavaliers with a 17-3 third quarter run. They led at one point by 19 points, but a pair of late three-pointers cut their winning margin to 14 points by game’s end…57-43.
The late ‘threes’ didn’t matter. The title was theirs, and with it the satisfaction of having defied the odds to not only beat good teams like St. Henry and Versailles…but they had beaten all comers – a perfect 9-0 in the league – to do it. It was, as senior Ryan Koenig would later put it, “awesome”.
No, this is a different, and better story than to write that they shot 44% from the field on offense…and held Coldwater (11-11, 3-6 in the MAC) to under 30% in the second half with a smothering defense. That’s what they did, of course. But the real story is achieving so much (18-4 overall, and 9-0 in the MAC) after starting late as a result of their title run in football, a perennial problem for Marion Local basketball.
Coldwater coach Nick Fisher smiled afterwards and graciously paid tribute to not only their accomplishment, but also to a hard-to-define commitment to compete.
“We’ve had late starts at Coldwater because of football,” said Fisher. “And when you get a late start like that it takes some time. I think Kurt’s been here seven years now and he’s had a late start every year. But it just takes time to get the kids accustomed to basketball and to have them do what you want them to do. And I know him well enough to know that his focus is on the defense first and let the offensive stuff come as the season goes on. They’ve got two great players with Bruns and Mescher – those two work so well together – and then the rest of their kids do a good job, too. You have to do a lot to prepare for ’em.”
But would he have called them a longshot?
“I wouldn’t have called them a longshot to win the league, or to be in the running for it with one or two losses,” said Fisher. “But to sweep the league they way they did…that’s shocking, because the league was balanced and good this year!”
True to Fisher’s words, Mescher and Bruns were a lot to prepare for, scoring 17 and 16 points, respectively (57% of Marion’s total), and doing most of their damage in the first half when Coldwater was making shots of their own, and making their case that to win the outright title Marion would have to go through the Cavaliers to do it. Mescher had 13 first half points and Bruns 10, to offset the challenge of Cole Frilling, who ignited for 13 points before the break.
The first 90 seconds of the third quarter was a turning point, as Marion came out of the halftime locker room to score the first five points, increase their lead to eight points, and then smother the offensive efforts of Coldwater to keep up.
“We made shots in the first half,” said Fisher. “We didn’t in the second. Plus, we missed a lot of free throw opportunities before half time, and some easy opportunities at the start of the third quarter. Then they hit a pair of ‘threes’ back to back – they cranked it up and really got going. We couldn’t execute the way we needed to.”
Goettemoeller would acknowledge after the game…that this is a Marion team that’s defined by its defensive obsession. But as surely as the season has progressed other players have begun complementing the offense behind Nate Bruns and Tyler Mescher. Mescher and Bruns got theirs Friday, but Tyler Prenger had 11, Justin Albers had 5, Collin Everman had 4, Jack Buening and Nick Tangeman had 2 points each – and you had the feeling that if more had been asked from each of them, they could have given it.
Coldwater was led by Cole Frilling’s 16 points – while Marcus Bruns had 7 and Derek Albers had 6. Four other Cavaliers – Grant Meyer, Trey Wolters, Mitch Balster and Ben Wenning, had 3 points each.
“We were only up three at halftime,” said Goettemoeller. “But for whatever reason we came out with a whole different mindset in the second half. I think their missing so many free throws in the first half helped our cause…but we really locked in on defense. We weren’t a thing of beauty on offense, but defensively we held them to three points in the third quarter and that was the difference in the game.
“Our (zone) offense is coming. We had some guys make shots tonight, and it wasn’t a matter of running sets, it was just going out and making plays because we’ve got big athletes and kids capable of making plays. We struggled against their zone in the first game in December, but tonight was different. And Coldwater’s a good basketball team. I think they’re capable of making a run in the tournament.”
As he talked in the hallway outside his locker room, inside ‘Queen’ was blasting on the sound system, “We are the champions….”. Whether it was held over from football, or something set up for the moment, Goettemoeller laughed and said it didn’t matter to him what they played. Friday night was a night of celebration.
Ryan Koening wore a big smile.
“We have good seniors,” said Koenig, who played off the bench Friday. “And we came out and tried to set an example of how hard we needed to work everyday. Our defense has carried us all year, and now we’re finding ways to score the points.”
Owing to a bit of ‘coach speak’, perhaps, Goettemoeller refused to bask in the moment, eschewing his own sense of any personal satisfaction.
“It’s really the kids’ accomplishment,” he said. “Early in the year we knew we were going to be behind, so we developed a mindset defensively and won games ugly until our offense could catch up. It’s their night to celebrate, and they should celebrate because the league was good this year, it was hard fought to get here, and we had to run the slate to win it outright. And we were able to do it.”
In a year when Versailles was the presumptive favorite for having the talent and spectre of Ohio State recruit Justin Ahrens, without question the league’s best individual talent…in a year when St. Henry developed their own winning mindset to go 19-3 and 8-1 in MAC play…and in a year of innumerable trap games against the likes of Minster, Delphos St. John, and Coldwater…they were able to do it.
They were always in the running in most minds, but never the outright favorites. That always belonged to Versailles, because of Justin Ahrens. And the irony of what they did – the accomplishment – was not lost upon Tyler Mescher as he left the locker room Friday for home, and presumably, celebration with his friends.
What was it like, he was asked, to sweep the slate and deny the “favorites”?
“Sweet,” he smiled. And then to add some emphasis, he added…”Awesome!”
Tournament preparation starts next week, but until then…someone turn up the ‘Queen’.