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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It hasn’t been the smoothest ride, but Josh Sagester and Tri-Village now set their sights on the time of year that defines winners. The Patriots are sharpening up for the “second season” and a replay of past success.

Coldwater – One night following a bruising loss to Bethel on the road, coach Josh Sagester and the Tri-Village Patriots boarded the bus Saturday for what promised to be another bruising test in Coldwater.

At 13-6, one of the area’s pre-season picks for tournament stardom had some work to do – work to shore up, tighten up, and sharpen up before Sunday’s tournament draw, and sectional-round opponents in a mere two weeks.

Nick Fisher’s Coldwater Cavaliers promised to be the kind of challenge Sagester relishes on the eve of what he once termed, “Our time of year.” That was in 2015, about a month before the Patriots won the Division IV title over Harvest Prep. And while there is no Colton Linkous on this year’s team, he smiles at the comparison to players present who can perform with the same impact of Colton Linkous and Damion Cook, standouts on that 2015 team.

Principally, those players are seniors Gavin Richards, a 6’1” point guard, and Trace Couch, a 6’6” crusher in the post, who give the Patriots their familiar inside-outside tandem, only with a different look.

They combined to score 40 of the Patriots 52 points in their 52-44 win Coldwater Saturday, a win that must have at least dimmed the memory of what happened just 24 hours before against Bethel.

“It’s hard to beat a team that shoots 11 of 16 from three-point range,” said Sagester of Friday’s Bethel loss. “But we have to come back and get ready for another team that’s going to shoot a lot of three-pointers.  Hopefully, just not that good.”

mrshoppe_sidebar_284x284And that pretty much summed up the game.

Coldwater trailed throughout the game, and 30-23 at halftime, before going on an 10-4 run in the third quarter and 6 of Dylan Thobe’s team-high 13 points to take a brief 35-34 lead with a minute left in the third quarter.

But the lead was brief. They didn’t hit enough ‘threes’,  and Richards and Couch went to work in the fourth, Richards scoring 9 of his game-high 24 points, and Couch dominated the offensive and defensive boards. Coldwater, who shot 25% for the game from three-point range, missed four of five attempts from beyond the arc in the final quarter and could not generate any other offensive options.

“I thought we were efficient on offense last night,” said Sagester later, talking about his rebound win. “11 of 16 is tough to get by, and they (Bethel) had some other kids that made plays.

Coldwater's Marcus Bruns (in white) found it tough to score at the rim against the Patriots' 6'6" Trace Couch.

Coldwater’s Marcus Bruns (in white) found it tough to score at the rim against the Patriots’ 6’6″ Trace Couch.

“Tonight I thought we did a good job defensively. They’re a team that likes the three-point shot and our goal tonight was to run them off the three-point line and make them work for 2’s instead of 3’s. For the most part I thought we were pretty good in doing that. Offensively I thought we took good shots, we had the ball in the right hands at the right time, and we ground out a win.”

The ball in the right hands at the right time was a tribute to a spectacular performance by the mercurial Richards, who plays with a confidence and swagger befitting the milestone he will unquestionably eclipse in the Patriots’ next game. He needed 26 points to hit the one thousand career mark Saturday. He finished two short – with 24 – but he made an impression on Nick Fisher.

“I was proud of our effort tonight,” assured Fisher. “We’re taking steps in the right direction and we’ve talked about the late start all year long.  But a lot of guys have gotten playing time that are helping us now. We’re still a work in progress, but it’s a good progress.

“Tonight we had too many empty possessions. We needed to take better care of the ball and knock down some shots. Could have been a different outcome. We settled for too many bad three-point shots, but that’s what we do. If we hit some of those it could have been a different ballgame.”

Speaking of Tri-Village….

“Couch is Couch. He doesn’t do a lot of damage outside of five feet, but inside of five feet he’s a load,” he added. “And Richards had a quiet 24 points tonight, but I thought he did a whale of a job. I thought Dylan Thobe did a good job guarding him, and he still got 24 points.”

"I think we can be as we want to be,"  says Sagester (above, middle).  Are we as good as we want to be?  No, but we're getting better."

“I think we can be as we want to be,” says Sagester (above, middle). Are we as good as we want to be? No, but we’re getting better.”

Coldwater (10-9) shot 38% from the floor, but only 4 of 16 from their bread and butter behind the three-point line. They were money from the foul line (11 of 12) but didn’t get there often enough.  Dylan Thobe’s 13 points led the in scoring;  teammate Neal Muhlenkamp finished with 11.

Tri-Village shot 45% (17 of 38), but only 2 of 10 from behind the arc. The Patriots hit 16 of 23 from the foul line (70%).  Richards’ 24 and Couch’s 16 accounted for 75% of their points.

Good, but good enough? They love – absolutely love – their basketball in New Madison, Ohio. The girls team is ranked #2 in the state, a high tourney seed. And likewise, the boys anticipate their own high seed come Sunday. Expectations, as usual, will be high.

“Going into the tournament we have some things we want to improve,” says Richards, as impressive face to face as he is with the ball in his hands at the top of the key. “We’d like to improve defensively and of course we want to execute better on offense. That’s the plan, but we  have to take the next step.

“This was a good win for us tonight because down the road we’re going to run into someone physical (like Coldwater). Games like this definitely help and Coach does a good job during the season of getting us those matchups.”

Walking for the bus Sagester had his own thoughts…about are they as good as they can be? And, are they as good as they want to be at the point of the season that defines winners in archival fashion?

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“We’ll be as good as we want to be,” he said. “I think we have a chance to be pretty special, and we’re getting better daily.

“Are we where we want to be? I’d say no, but we’re getting there. Obviously tonight was a very good test on the road. But we’ve got three more games next week and a tough test in Ft. Loramie. Right now it’s about getting better by playing as good a competition as you can. And that’s what we’re doing.”

It hasn’t been the smoothest ride, but Josh Sagester hopes now for a month of better roads. A little something downhill would be nice. It’s his time of year.

Trace Couch (left) and Coldwater's Neal Muhlenkamp butt heads over a loose ball in Saturday's game.

Trace Couch (left) and Coldwater’s Neal Muhlenkamp butt heads over a loose ball in Saturday’s game.

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