They did a lot of things well, and right. But in the end…New Bremen lost a beauty of a basketball game to Jonathan Alder Saturday night for lack of the rudiments. There’s a reason they call them ‘free throws’!
By Rob Hemmelgarn for Press Pros
New Bremen, OH – On the eve of Christmas Eve, there’s no better place to be than in a high school gym soaking in some boys’ basketball action.
Saturday’s stop was in New Bremen, where Cardinals’ head coach Cory Stephens and his troops hosted the Jonathan Alder Pioneers in non-conference action. With the New Bremen student section decked out in a satire of holiday garb including snowmen, elves, and an undersized Santa with cutoff sleeves. The Cardinals looked to start Christmas early with hopes of a victory on their home floor.
But despite draining 13 long balls, and keeping turnovers to a minimum, the Cardinals were ultimately doomed by a 6 of 17 night from the charity stripe, as they fell to the Pioneers by a final of 65-61.
“We didn’t win on the scoreboard tonight, but games like this are going to battle test us for our conference schedule and for the postseason,” commented Stephens. “I felt that despite the outcome, we still brought a lot intensity against a great team, and if you don’t do that in games of magnitude, especially by the time tournament comes, you will be finished.”
The Cardinals, who had been idle since they picked up their first win of the season last Saturday on the road at Fort Loramie, welcomed the 3-2 Pioneers and head coach and New Knoxville graduate Derek Dicke to town. The Pioneers started their season 0-2, but arrived in Auglaize County armed with a three-game winning streak, along with 6-4 senior Peyton Heiss, who was on the cusp of 1,000 points for his career.
The game displayed a couple of teams in mid-season form as far as calmness and rhythm as they dueled back and forth like a pair of heavyweights, trading three-point shot after three-point shot for the game’s opening eight minutes.
By the time the dust settled, the Pioneers nursed a 20-18 edge after both teams combined for ten made long balls, while limiting themselves on turnovers and missed field goals.
New Bremen senior Jackson Lennartz lit the fuse to the second period with a stick-back from underneath to tangle things at 20 points, but within a couple of minutes the Pioneers enjoyed a five-point command after sophomore forward Garrett Bauer drilled a three-pointer to bump his team in front, 28-23.
New Bremen senior Aaron Thieman refused to be out-done though, and the 6-0 guard answered with one of his own from downtown and complemented it with a driving layup to knot the game at 28 points midway through the period. The two teams traded punches the rest of the half, before Alder closed the stanza with a pair of free throws and relished in a 36-33 lead at the half.
“Both teams shot the ball well tonight from beyond the perimeter and we could see that from the opening quarter,” Stephens said. “They are coached very well and very disciplined and they know when to take good shots. I would say the biggest positive from tonight for us was the battle we endured. We knew coming in that they were a good and well-coached team with great athletes, but I am proud of the way we battled and chipped away – unfortunately it just wasn’t enough in the end.”
The third quarter was highlighted for the visitors by Heiss connecting for his 1,001st point of his career. After a brief timeout while he acknowledged his supporters, it was back to business, with the Pioneers swishing back-to-back threes to provide their biggest edge of the night, 49-41, midway through the third. The Cardinals stood tough, though, and continued chipping away, with Thieman drawing a foul at the buzzer on his three-point attempt. The senior connected on two of his three shots, and as the game rolled into the final eight minutes everything was evened up at 52-points.
Through three periods, it was the Wild, Wild West as both teams played fast and loose from beyond the perimeter with much success, but as the final period opened, it was obvious both sides looked to seal their potential win from in the paint. The Cardinals’ physicality appeared as if it would be the difference-maker as they held the rebounding edge, particularly on the defensive side. But with two minutes remaining, they didn’t gain much traction as the scoreboard still reflected everything knotted up at 61 points.
From there, both teams displayed patience, but a jumper from junior Noah Hess put the Pioneers in front, 63-61 with 1:36 to play. Scoring remained non-existent until with six seconds left, Hess sealed it with two free throws to secure his team’s road win by the four point margin.
“We left some free throws hanging out there tonight and when you look at it, that is what we needed in the end – we always want to shoot at least 70% from the line and tonight that didn’t happen,” Stephens remarked. “At times our shot selection was rough, but we also try to give the kids a little freedom, so as long as it is in rhythm and we can step left and right and let it fly, that is what we preach.”
Had his team lost, it would have been easy for Dicke to justify it with excuses in the locker room – it’s a non-league game, they had to travel 90 minutes, it’s the day before Christmas, or whatever other coach-speak excuses were available, but the former Dan Hegemier pupil didn’t need any reasons this night.
“We come out to win every game that we play regardless of the circumstances,” he reasoned. “I tell the guys all of the time that you learn from failure, but winning tonight means a lot to me personally.
“I played at New Knoxville and have played in this gym many times so it was nice to come back to my home area and get a win. We handled adversity well tonight – we were down four points with about five minutes to play and we clawed our way back into it, and I feel if we can keep doing that, especially on the road, that we are building something special.”