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 stirring effort in the face of history, paced by the inexplicable shooting of a leader-in-waiting, propelled the Piqua Indians to their first title in the Buckeye Insurance Holiday Tournament.

Piqua – After five long years of frustration, inexplicable and embarrassing losses, and the pains that come from being a host not with the most, but all too often with the least, the Piqua Indians won their own tournament Saturday night, in overtime…79-75 over the Lehman Cavaliers.

There are those, no doubt, who will say that it took them longer than it should have, given the tournament makeup of three Division IV teams (Covington, Russia, and Lehman), and Division I Piqua.  And give this to the Piqua Indians and their basketball fortunes of the past five years.  They’ve borne it well, with grace, and the commitment to keep working.

Commendable!

A thing of beauty Saturday it was not, by both teams.  But, it was competitive, at times in the grand tradition of roller derby…pushing, shoving, plenty of elbows, grabbing and gouging.  Both teams gave as good as they got.  It’s the one attribute Piqua coach Heath Butler guaranteed prior to the game.

“We’re young and we’re talented enough to compete on most nights,”  he said.  “We play hard.”

And play hard they did.  They never gave up, after a 3-point halftime deficit, after taking the lead in the third quarter only to see it slip away, time and again.  In all, there were six lead changes in the second half.

Connor Richard’s three-pointer at the end of regulation tied the score and forced the overtime period.

And the issue of having a three-point lead with time running down in regulation, only to see Lehman’s Connor Richard bury a three-pointer from the wing to tie the game and send it to overtime.  Devastating for Piqua teams past, but not on this night.

Commendable.

Even after Lehman came out to score the first points in the overtime on a jumper from Greg Spearman (who had 31 points for the night), Piqua never lost that competitiveness that Heath Butler promised…thanks to junior Xavier Harrison.

Harrison, in the midst of a career night of his own (26 points on 5 of 8 three-point shooting), literally willed the Indians to the finish line with the last of his rainbow-arc bombs from behind the three-point line.  It proved to be the dagger, the likes of which had done in the Indians on so many nights previous.

That too, commendable.

As we say, it wasn’t pretty.  Nor, should it ever have gone to overtime.

Lehman had the game right where they wanted it with an eight-point first half lead, and the advantage three times in the second half.  But they could not make shots at the free throw line.  They converted just 18 of 31 from the stripe (58%), as coach Isaiah Williams put it afterwards, ” It’s the achilles heel of this basketball team”.

Consider too, that Lehman’s commitment to defense resembled something like the French tried during World War II.  Or, if that analogy leaves you empty, consider the image of a matador waving the cape at a charging bull and then stepping out of the way as he charged by.   That’s what it looked like, and the beneficiary was…Xavier Harrison.

Time and again his Piqua teammates found him standing alone, at the wing, in the corner, at the top of the key…unguarded.  The 5’8″ junior needed no prompting.  He just let it fly.

“He’s capable of doing that,”  said Butler afterwards.  “Xavier’s a good shooter and he can have games like that.  It’s just the matter of him getting the looks he got tonight and having the confidence to make those shots.  Tonight he had it.”

“My teammates gave me great feeds all night.  I was just going with the flow,” said the bright-eyed Harrison, who was also awarded tournament MVP recognition.  He downplayed his 26 points, as well as MVP honors, choosing instead to credit those with whom he played.

But Piqua, too, was guilty of not playing successfully in the face of prosperity, largely for the fact that they did not, or could not, guard Lehman sophomore Greg Spearman.  Spearman, a shy assassin from points all over the floor, scored 31 points while constantly challenging the bigger Piqua post players at the rim.

“It was just my night,”  said Spearman, disappointed and exhausted from exertion.  “Unfortunately it was his night, too (Harrison).  We kept leaving him open.  They kept driving and kicking it to him and we never guarded him.”

And just like Lehman, the Indians did anything but distinguish themselves from the free throw line, hitting just 14 of 24 attempts.

Tate Honeycutt (above) exemplified Piqua’s scrappy effort, stealing the ball from Lehman’s Greg Spearman.

But if it was like roller derby, credit the Indians for being on their feet at the end, the essence of the game.

Especially commendable!

“We used to lose games like this,”  said Heath Butler.  “But we’re improving.  We’re getting there.  We’re still young and inexperienced, but we played with a lot of enthusiasm and desire.  Tonight was a big step for us.”

If it was a step forward for Piqua, it must have felt like nothing less than a huge step backward for Isaiah Williams and his Cavaliers.

“We lost the game defensively,”  he said matter-of-factly.  “And that’s a shame because Greg (Spearman) had a great game.  He turned it up tonight.  He paced himself.  He took care of the ball, and he made some great shots.  But I was so disappointed with our defensive effort.  But once again, you’re dealing with 15, 16, and 17-year-olds.  So we have to go back to the drawing board and correct some things.  We never gave up, and that’s a good thing, but if we do more things right along the way we don’t put ourselves in the position we were in at the end.  There is no overtime.  This game brought us a lot of teachable moments.

“But I give credit to their guy (Harrison).  Hey, it was his night.  The problem I had with it was he was wide open all night.  We never got out on him and put a hand in his face.  We might have taken him for granted.  His shot is unusual, very high, and in his own gym you’ve got to take that away, and we never did.”

Five years is a long time to play the part of accommodating host.  Little wonder then as the clock hit 0:00 in overtime that the Piqua kids reacted in a manner of celebration not unlike winning a state title in football.  Someone dumped out a big bag of confetti from the balcony.

Over the top?  Not at all.  After all they’ve been through there was no more significant win for Piqua basketball at this time…than finally winning their own tournament.

“It feels good,”  added Xavier Harrison.  “Especially for our seniors.  We had all those losses.  Those teams are good (Covington, Russia and Lehman), but it’s frustrating to lose to a Division IV team.  Tonight we finally came out and played better as a team.”

Heath Butler probably said it best.  “After all the hard work we’ve done, the kids deserved it.”

Amen.  And very commendable.

Lehman’s sophomore Greg Spearman continually challenged the bigger Piqua post players at the rim and won, coming away with 31 points in the Cavs’ loss.

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