The holidays are over, but the Yellow Jackets are providing cheer throughout Sidney with a 9-0 start following a big win over West Carrollton.
Not so in Sidney. The decorative lights might be coming down, but there’s still plenty of cheer and revelry in the city … and especially inside Sidney High School’s gymnasium. John Willoughby’s boys basketball team hosted another bash on Friday night. And, just like the previous four gatherings on their home court, Yellow Jacket Nation left elated and upbeat.
A balanced offensive effort, solid team defense and that all-for-one attitude carried Sidney to a tougher-than-it-sounds 64-48 victory over West Carrollton. Sidney trailed by 10 points three times in the first quarter and once in the second before taking control of the Miami Valley League clash.
Sidney’s 9-0 start is the program’s first since the 1978-79 team did it. And it’s even more impressive considering the talent the Yellow Jackets graduated from last season’s 20-5 team. Gone is the program’s all-time leading scorer and Texas A&M standout Andre Gordon and his 2,013 points. Gone is all-time blocks leader Ratez Roberts, defensive stalwart Josiah Hudgins and former starter Keith Lee, among others.
If outsiders doubted the Yellow Jackets chances of duplicating last season’s success, then those misgivings are also going … going … gone … with each win.
“It’s a new year. It’s a new team. It’s new individuals. We’ll just go from there,” Willoughby said after improving to 7-0 in the MVL’s Valley Division. “Every year in high school you’re dealing with different players. We’re trying to do what we need to do to win. It’s not the same team. It’s not the same look. But give our kids credit. They come fighting and they’re sticking it out so far.”
And they stuck it to a West Carrollton team experiencing a resurgence of its own. The Pirates entered Friday with five victories after amassing nine the previous four seasons combined.
Sidney’s lone lead of the first half came on the game’s opening score, a fast-break layup from Trey Werntz off the tip.
West Carrollton (5-3 overall, 5-2 MVL) took it from there with strong perimeter shooting, especially from Stanley Shrivers. The guard blitzed Sidney with 14 points in the first quarter – besting his season high by a point. But the Yellow Jackets clamped down on Shrivers – as well as the MVL’s top scorer in Kalen McKinney – with tough man defense that prevented penetration.
Shrivers finished with 18 points, but after the first quarter he didn’t score again until the final 1:25 of the fourth quarter. McKinney, who entered averaging 18.1 points, finished with four on lone field goals in the second and third quarters.
“We wanted to take away McKinney and we wanted to take away penetration from everyone else,” Willoughby said. “When they came out and hit those threes early we were telling the kids stay with the game plan. We were worried about the penetration more than them shooting threes on us.”
Sidney’s Camden Vordemark (five points), Darren Taborn (four points) and Devin Taborn (three points) combined to key Sidney’s 12-2 run to end the second quarter. Devin’s three-pointer from NBA range with 54 seconds forged a 33-33 halftime time.
Sidney and West Carrollton traded baskets to start the third quarter and were tied 41-41 with 3:56 before Avante Martin took over. After Lathan Jones and Darren Taborn scored consecutive baskets, Martin soared a fingertip higher than a pair of Pirates defenders … and just enough to tip a high rebound in for the 45-41 lead.
On Sidney’s next trip down the floor, a loose ball went directly to Martin under the basket for the 47-41. Martin scored earlier in the quarter off a steal to help him finish with six points.
“I didn’t even know it went in (until people started yelling),” said Martin, who didn’t see the end result. “I got hit in the eye.”
Devin Taborn hit a pair of free throws to give Sidney its first double-digit lead, 51-41, with 6:05 left in the fourth quarter. It swelled to 22 points with 2:32 remaining, thanks in part to West Carrollton missing nine of 10 free throws midway through the quarter. The Pirates were 3-of-15 overall.
Darren Taborn led Sidney with 17 points and Martin added a season-high 12. Vordemark (nine), Jones (nine) and Werntz (eight) chipped in key points as eight different players scored.
“I’m really proud the way we battled. We stuck with the game plan and I thought we did an excellent job,” Willoughby said. “I thought our post players were big today. I think if we’re getting better as a team that’s where we’re getting better, with our post play.”
Sidney played without senior point guard Dominick Durr, who missed a second game with a wrist injury. Devan Taborn and Cedrick Johnson filled his role Friday.
“Without him in there I thought Devan and Cedrick handled the ball really well. As we talked all along, our depth is an advantage,” Willoughby said. “When a player like Dominick Durr doesn’t play for you, you think you’re going to be in trouble because of his point guard experience. But we had a sophomore and junior play really well for us at the point.”
Martin also added a season-high 11 rebounds, had four steals and blocked a shot.
“We have great chemistry because we’ve played with each other since we were little,” Martin said of the reason for the team’s success.
“I think we prepared for this since day one,” added Darren Taborn, who has led the team in scoring in seven of nine games this season. “We push each other in practice every day so I think it’s a battle. It doesn’t matter who the starters are. I feel like our bench is going to go in and do work, too. I think it’s a great combination.”
That the Yellow Jackets returned one starter (Darren Taborn) wasn’t a concern for Willoughby or his locker room. A program that won 73 games the past four seasons has continued the same pace.
“I feel like this year we have more on our shoulders because we lost those key players,” Darren Taborn said. “But I’m not scared for anyone to be on the floor. I feel like whoever is on the floor is going to make an impact for our team.
“It’s great. I love the environment. It’s a winning environment and that’s what we want.”
As for West Carrollton, the Pirates didn’t win their fifth game last season until their 17th game and finished 6-17. They won one game in 2017-18 and went winless in 2016-17. Their last winning season was 2012 when they finished 12-10.
Sidney saw a different West Carrollton team than those of seasons past. But the result was still the same for the Yellow Jackets.