Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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A senior shooter from Tri-Village wreaks havoc on opposing defenses and the Patriots look to avenge a frustrating loss last in the districts finals by tuning up on the rest of the Cross County Conference.  So far, so good.  Really good!

Kyle Pipenger deserves better.

During the carnage of the Tri-Village Patriots’ 53-28 win over Covington (in Covington) Friday night I tried to make some notes on a piece of paper as I watched.

“How do you spell Pipenger?”  I asked, to be sure, of a fan wearing a shirt with “T-V” on the front, a dead giveaway that he might know.  “Does it have one ‘p’, or two?”

“One,”  he said without hesitating. 

And then, he hedged.  “No, wait.  It might have two, since you mentioned it.”

I nodded my appreciation for his consideration, if not his assurance, but later asked one of the team’s ballboys after the game.  He disappeared into the locker room to get  me my answer…and never came back. 

Thank God for the internet, I guess.  A high school basketball player as good (and as fun to watch) as Kyle Pipenger deserves to be known, and have his named spelled correctly.

If the essence of the game is shooting, then surely Kyle Pipenger is the essence of the Tri-Village Patriots…’cause he can shoot.  The 6’3″ senior averages just a breath more than 20 points a game for the now 14-0 Division IV Patriots,  and he did anything but disappoint on Friday…unless you played for Covington.  He scored 11 points in the first quarter, hitting four of his first six shots from the field.  He had 16 by halftime, his team leading comfortably, 30-16.

He didn’t score as much in the second half.  He didn’t have to.  He finished with 20 as the Pats extended their  lead to “Never, Never Land”  in terms of a Covington comeback.  He dazzled in a different way…with no-look passes to an assortment of wide-open teammates.  By buzzer time Kyle Pipenger had left no doubt…he was the best player on the floor, the best player on the best team in the “west”.

Tri-Village  High School is to be found in New Madison , Ohio, a small burg south of Greenville, in Darke County, on the far “west” fringe of the Cross County Conference.  Hence, the convenience, if not the boldness of the claim that Kyle Pipenger is the best in the west.  And over the past three seasons few, if any, league rivals have demonstrated anything to the contrary.

His game is pretty complete.  He’s nigh on impossible to defend…saavy enough to create and score off the dribble, while skilled  enough to slice up defenses that fail to challenge him on wide-open shots.  He would tell you if you ask…the best way to keep him from scoring is simply don’t let him get his hands on the ball.

“He’s good.  He’s a really nice player,”  said Covington coach Matt Pond after the smoke cleared Friday.  “I thought we defended pretty well overall, because we held them under what they’d been scoring as a team.  But you’ve got to put a body on Kyle Pipenger, and we never did that.  He got wide open looks and he makes ’em when he gets ’em.”

He’s a great player, for sure, but a work in progress as an interview subject.  Kyle Pipenger isn’t a talker when it comes to tooting his own horn.  But he does say all the right things about sharing the basketball, about giving  credit to his teammates.  And he talks in terms of “winning”, over individual achievements…another essence of basketball. 

The subject of scoring, however, of shooting the basketball…is another matter.  His eyes go neon.  There’s no mistake.  He’s a scorer.  He wants the ball.  He converted 8 of 17 shots Friday to notch his 20 points, and he could have scored 40 if he’d taken more shots, but there was no need.  Some night soon, when there is, he will.

“I’m pretty confident with my shot,”  he admitted quietly outside the locker room Friday.  “I’ve spent a lot of hours in the gym.  I probably could have scored more tonight, but you have to consider the game…how much time is left when they made a little comeback in the second half, so you try to control the ball and the pace of the game.”

His “knowledge”  has increased with his skill as Kyle Pipenger looks to become a “better” high school basketball player.  He has a thousand career points already, the requisite milestone of every pure scorer.  But when you talk with him face to face, you understand.  No man is an island in basketball.  There’s more to scoring than just shooting.

“My teammates do a tremendous job of getting me the ball,”  he adds shyly.  “It’s really not about me, it’s about all the screens they set and the great passes I get.  They make sure I get good shot selection and good looks.

“I used to score more, but then I started to see the whole floor.  My parents would tell me to work on my passing and that became a more important part of my game.  Now I tell my teammtes to keep their hands ready ’cause you never know when it’s coming.”

If he’s shy with reporters, that’s fine.  His coach Josh Sagester would rather have the boldness with which he leads his basketball team.  Obviously, it feeds off the 6’3″ Pipenger, but for the thousand points and the undefeated record thus far this season, the memory of that one loss to Jackson Center in last year’s district final is a haunting reminder to Pipenger, Sagester, et.al.  The game really isn’t about him.  It’s about winning, and winning bigger games outside the Cross County Conference.

The essence of the game. “It’s his shot,” says coach Josh Sagester. “It’s so far back (behind his head) that defenders really can’t get to it. It’s not picture perfect, but because of repetition he has great confidence in it..”

“He’s special,”  smiles Sagester.  “He’s a little bigger and more athletic than a lot of people give him credit for.  He’s good because he knocks down the open shots, but he can create a shot if there isn’t one there, too.  But what makes him tough to stop is his shot…it’s so far back (behind his head) that defenders really can’t get to it.  It’s not picture perfect, but because of repetition he has great confidence in it.

“The thing about Kyle that I want people to know is…he makes people around him better.  He had 16 at halftime tonight and if I had 16 I’d be thinking about getting 40.  But you could see that it never crossed his mind.  The most important thing to him now is winning basketball games and being a good teammate.  The first half tonight he scored, the second half he distributed and made sure that he took good care of the ball.  He’s got a good concept of the game.  He understands it.  If there’s a better Division IV basketball player right now I’d like to see him.”

Make no mistake, there’s a lot of good Division IV basketball players, in small schools where the percentages dictate that there’s often but one player on the roster with Kyle Pipenger’s skills and accumen.  They produce, they win…and they “grind”, owing to the expectations and heightened responsibility.  But their’s is a game often without fun.  Not so, for Kyle Pipenger and the Patriots.

“I’ve got great teammtes,”  Pipenger says.  “That makes it fun.”

“And great chemistry,”  adds Sagester.  “We’ve got cohesion in this locker room.  The kids don’t care about who scores points.  They care about “Ws”.  They want to win.  And truthfully, it’s a trickle down here from parents to the kids.  They know how the game’s supposed to be played.”

With due respect to spelling Kyle Pipenger’s name correctly, to his records, and the undefeated record of his team, there is some pressure and expectation that comes with being unbeaten and the pursuit of a bigger, better win.  Sagester and the Patriots remember all too well that “cold” night against Jackson Center last March…the disappointment of losing in the district final.

In a weak basketball league they haven’t been challenged through 14 games,  the likes of which they will soon be challenged. 

And while it’s true that “team” and “cohesion” can see you through (as it did last year for Jackson Center), there’s soon to come a time when Kyle Pipenger and the Patriots must ultimately prove that they really are the “best in the west”.

“No, we really haven’t been challenged,”  admits Sagester.  “But I think we’re playing at a pretty high level and we have some big game experience.   We’ve got two three-year starters and a pair of two-year starters.  We do have the experience of playing in that district final last year.  We got a lot of kids who put a lot time in.  These kids don’t play AAU, they play together in our gym.  They’re together in the weight room and they work together on skill development.  We’ve played a lot of games together.  I think you can see that on the court.  They’re excited about playing,  and 14-0 is 14-0.  We’ll take it.”

And to the issue of spelling, understand.  Being undefeated, like Kyle Pipenger, is special…deserving.  We wanted to get it right.  I’m still waiting on that ballboy. 

Before sitting down to write, I rummaged through a stack of programs from last year and found a roster from a Tri-Village game on the road.  P-I-E-P-E-N-G-E-R…it read Then, I looked at the box score.  Even with the added vowel he still scored 26 points that night. 

Which only proves that it doesn’t matter how you spell it, Kyle Pippenger is going to score and the Patriots are winning.  He is, and they are,  the best in the west.

To a man they’ll tell you.  That’s all that matters.

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