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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Leading by five points at halftime, Marion Local and Jack Knapke (below) blitzed Spencerville in the third quarter of Friday’s Division IV district final to claim the title and advance to next week’s regional round.

Wapakoneta, OH – Marion Local coach Kurt Goettemoeller has always lauded his program’s defensive and competitive legacy for past successes.  That being, of course, it’s hard to lose when the other team can’t score!

Friday night that legacy loomed once more in a convincing 49-31 win over Spencerville (21-4) to claim the Division title at Wapakoneta, and improve their season’s record to 21-4, moving on to next week’s regional round to be played at Bowling Green.

Never was Marion Local basketball more in evidence, from a ragged first half start that saw them score just 7 point (7-4) in the first quarter, and 19 for the half (19-14)…to a complete competitive turnaround coming out of the halftime locker room to begin the second half.

Marion played its defensive trump, went on a 14-2 run for the quarter, and ran a good Spencerville team out of the game, the tournament, and the season.  They eventually claimed a 49-31 win.

“It’s our defense,”  senior guard Peyton Otte later claimed.  “Our coaches had us well prepared, we knew all their stuff, and we just settled down with our defense.  And on offense we got it to our big man down low and he went to work.”

Tate Hess helped rev the offense in the second half, splitting a pair of defenders for two of his six points.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  Too simple for a one-and-done tournament scenario?  Actually, Otte nailed it.  It was just that simple.

Both teams struggled to score at the outset, and both missed multiple opportunities to score from point blank range, and Marion clanked a handful of open jump shots that ended as long rebounds in the hands of Spencerville.

But the Bearcats could do little more on their end, and that big man that Otte referred to, Jack Knapke, made his presence felt around the rim on defense.  He swatted a couple, altered a couple more, and served notice that it might be a long night if they didn’t hit some shots from the perimeter.

In the meantime Brady Ronnebaum finally hit a three-pointer to start the second quarter, Tate Hess scored a bucket, Otte scored, and Knapke collected a pair of baskets on deft moves inside to push Marion’s halftime advantage to 19-14.

But coming out of the locker room Marion kicked it to another gear, scoring the first ten points, totally flummoxing Spencerville for eight critical minutes – creating turnovers, claiming loose balls, and got some easy baskets in transition.  It took the Bearcats six minutes to score, and by quarter’s end Marion had doubled the score on them, and the game, for all intents, was part of the legacy.

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“It was a good feeling because it was so low scoring, and such a nip-and-tuck game in the first half,”  said Goettemoeller.  “Both teams defend well, and they’ve got a really good offense.  So to squirt out to a five-point lead before the half was good, because it was such a close game, and I give a lot of credit to our assistants for getting our defense prepared.  I told them to lock in on them and what they want to do, and get our guys ready.  And they did a great job and our kids bought in.”

Peyton Otte beats a Bearcat to a loose ball during Marion’s 14-2 third quarter run

Spencerville rinsed itself to score 15 points in the final quarter, but Marion scored 16 and the outcome became academic.  Jitters appeared to go away, shots began to fall, and sophomore center Jack Knapke took another step in his matriculation as an area big man of reckoning for the future.  Knapke finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and had three blocked shots.

More irony as only high school basketball can provide, Marion’s win served as a bit of redemption, atoning for a regular season loss to the same Spencerville team three weeks ago, when they handed Marion its fourth loss of the season, 53-48.

“Yeah, that was some motivation for us,” claimed Otte, who scored 8 in Friday’s district final win.  “They jumped on us right away in that game and we knew that we couldn’t allow that to happen tonight.  We didn’t want to let them get hot.”

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Gratifying, too, was the distribution of points by Marion.  Knapke’s big game yielded game-high honors with 17 points.  But Jadyn Mescher heated up for a couple of three-pointers in the second half to finish with 10.  Otte chipped in 8, Tate Hess had 6, Ronnebaum had 5, and Hudson Rose finished with 3.

For Spencerville, Josh Henline led them with 12 points, teammate Evan Osting had 10, and Tyler Koenig and Dylan Smith had 6 and 3, respectively.  That was it, shocking for a team of such high repute and respect within the northwest district tournament.

Jack Knapke collects one of his three blocks against Spencerville’s Dylan Smith.

“Their guards are really good,”  added Goettemoeller, “and our guards just really defended them well tonight.  To hold them to two points for the third quarter…that allowed us to gap them and give us a double-digit lead going into the fourth.  Then we had to take care of it because they’re really capable of pressuring the ball, they’re ‘handsy’, they do a good job in the passing lanes…and our guards just took care of it.  We spaced them out and got some easy baskets, and kinda’ took their will there in the fourth quarter.”

For a team that started late because of football, and struggled for the first weeks of season to get their legs, Marion now has won ten of eleven going back to the end of January, and has done it with one very familiar attribute.

Not having one particular scorer on a given night, they do it with their defense.

And relative to Otte’s statement about losing that first encounter with Spencerville, this time there was no jumping on, no ton of bricks…no 20-8 score at the end of the first quarter.  Teams can’t win if they can’t score.

So it is when you play Marion these days.  Always been that way!

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