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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In our tradition of assessing the pre-tournament fortunes of the area’s best basketball teams, some answers to your questions about who’s good (or the best), and how far does Press Pros think they can go on a tournament run?

In the past week it’s almost the first question heard when you walk into a high school gym.

“Who have you seen that you really like this year?”

Or…..

“Who have you seen that you think has a chance to make a long tournament run?”

Actually, it’s refreshing instead of having to explain why we post hunting stories on Press Pros. I’m sure there are some thinking that still, but when in Rome (or a gym), you talk as the Romans do.

Of course anything I say about a particularly basketball is arbitrary because basketball isn’t like football or baseball.

In football there are so many variables, matchups, schemes, size, speed, special teams, etc.

In baseball, there’s nothing very arbitrary about pitching. If you have it you’re a favorite to win at any level. Good pitching beats good hitting every time.

But in basketball it’s a bit different. Yes, big teams usually do beat small teams; and quick teams usually beat slow teams. But the one standard by which all teams become suspect is…can you put the ball in the hoop on a given night? The rim diameter never changes, or the size of the ball. The very best teams get beat when they shoot 25%, unless they can compensate with a different attribute.

So that all said, I will answer the combination of questions: Who have we seen that we really like to make a good post-season run, boys and girls? Here they are, an in the order of my ranking.

mark_knupp_284x1501)  First, in boys, an obvious pick is the Versailles Tigers because they have one of the area’s very best individual talents in Justin Ahrens, and a good enough supporting cast to compensate on most nights when opposing teams say that Ahrens won’t beat them single-handedly, like Tipp did early in the year.

That said, I have seen the Tigers on nights when Ahrens didn’t score, and no one else did, either. And more, I’ve seen them on nights when teams threw heavy full-court pressure against them, forcing the other four on the floor to handle the ball.

But this is a good group, and one that probably gets a break this year because there is no obvious Miami East in the sectional like last year to force them to win with their perimeter shooting. The lack of a more experienced backcourt against pressure would be a concern, but Travis Swank has done a nice job in his first year, and this team can get to the district round before they see a mirror image of their talent.

Tri-Village senior Gavin Richards has been "special", in the words of his coach...a thousand point scorer and always good with the ball in his hands.

Tri-Village senior Gavin Richards has been “special”, in the words of his coach…a thousand point scorer and always good with the ball in his hands.

2)  This is where it gets dicey, but in Division IV the Russia Raiders have impressed me most nights because…they play like the Russia Raiders. They don’t have the obvious physical talents of past Russia teams, size and quickness, but they play well together and they give teams fits with their willingness to defend. Any team they can hold under 50 I give Russia a 70/30 chance of beating.

As far as offense goes, I’ve seen at least three of their five starters lead them in scoring on a given night and they have enough depth off the bench to keep the starters fresh. Like the good Paul Bremigan teams of the past, the Raiders still play their game in the tradition of what they do best, which of course is…a little bit of everything.  Good job, Spencer Cordonnier.  On that given night this group will be dangerous.

3)  Still in Division IV, I haven’t seen Tri-Village play a lot, but enough to know that the tandem of Gavin Richards and Trace Couch represents what coach Josh Sagester likes most – a dependable set of hands on the basketball, and a pair of inside-out scoring threats, not unlike what he had two years ago with Colton Linkous and Damion Coach.

There is no way of defining what they have, but Sagester’s teams always play with a certain “it” factor, a confidence and aggressive style that usually gives them a chance. The question, as in the past, do they have enough depth should a key starter get dinged, or in foul trouble?  Bet never, ever, count this group out.

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4)  I also like the Fairlawn Jets; and I like them because Nathan Lessing, night after night, is the most efficient Division IV player I’ve seen this year. Not big, not overly fast, Lessing without question is the best player without the ball in his hands among area teams, which sounds funny because he averages nearly 30 points and is the all-time leading scorer in the Shelby County League.

But he does all this because he’s so hard to defend. Their offense runs him through screens, opponents lose track of him, and when he pops out he’s open and shooting. When I saw him a year ago I thought his perimeter shooting was suspect. But now even that’s something you can’t take for granted. He’s also the best scorer off an offensive rebound I’ve seen because of his quickness. He gets the foul line a lot, and he’ll score 10 points a night just on free throws.

If Lessing does have a bad night, I don’t know if there’s enough insulation around him, but I’ve yet to see him have a bad night.

Whoever plays Fairlawn will need to throttle down all-time SCL scorer Nate Lessing.  Thus far, few have.

Whoever plays Fairlawn will need to throttle down all-time SCL scorer Nate Lessing. Thus far, few have.

5)  In Division I the Sidney Yellow Jackets have so much athletic talent that they’re a threat every night they take the floor, and against almost anyone. They beat Trotwood this year because they COULD run and bump with teams who want to play with pace.

But against a team like Tipp City, just four nights later, they struggled because Tipp held the pace down and teams like Sidney have shown to be suspect when made to play with patience. In fact, in their four losses at this writing each of those team made the ‘Jackets play under the speed limit.

Andre Gordon is an incredible talent – he’s going to be on everyone’s list for either football or basketball before he’s done – but the ‘Jackets are a team that need to become more disciplined to play effectively on nights when Gordon is nullified and shots aren’t falling. And whether John Willoughby, who’s as good as they come, agrees or not, he’s been on the wrong end of other familiar scenarios in the past. That rim we spoke about…has never changed.

Still, there aren’t many as talented as Gordon. They’re very fun to watch, they’ve been exciting for the community of Sidney, and the fans up there love them. And they should!

6)  Fort Loramie started out like a house a fire this year, then kind of fell on a few nights when the shots didn’t go in and they struggled to find a way to compensate. Like I say, the rim is the number one limiting factor in basketball.

When they slumped in January coach Corey Britton admitted, “We’re not a very good basketball team right, because we don’t practice like a good basketball team.” Credit that to youth and a long season, for sure, but there’s talent there, and the ‘Skins have a presence in the rim with 6’7” Tyler Siegel that gives them a very comforting insulation factor. He can score, and he can defend.

When they shoot, and when they play with the confidence of playing like a “good team”, Loramie can be a very tough opponent. Piqua sectional…beware!

With the girls it’s anything but cut and dry…..

In Division III Kami MeEldowny gives Versailles an experienced ball handler and scorer who already has a state title to her credit (2015).

In Division III Kami MeEldowny gives Versailles an experienced ball handler and scorer who already has a state title to her credit (2015).

1)  You have to like Versailles first in Division III, because while other teams are equally big, and have equal skills at key positions…the thing I respect most about the Tigers is their athleticism.  What I like about them second best – they go out of their way to play anyone, anywhere, any time.  They’re batted tested, and ready.

Yes, they have size in the post. Yes, they defend with aggression and enthusiasm, a staple with girls basketball.

But they can run the floor, first and foremost. And two, they have a seasoned point guard in Kami McEldowney that can score as well as distribute with equal confidence.

More, the Tigers seem to have that ‘it’ factor of a different player on a given night stepping up to do what they need. Yes, they lost to Minster two weeks ago, but in a five-game series…whoa! That would be interesting. I like their chances.

2)  Those very Minster Wildcats. Like Versailles, they seem to have a lot of the right people doing the right things at the right times.

But they have a couple of inexplicable losses that make you scratch your head. But they’re capable of having a good run because they’ve got size, a lot of experience, a winning tradition (that’s important), and they’re wonderfully coached by Mike Wiss, who’s won titles before in a different sport.

Their first four – Fischer, Roetgerman, Westerbeck, and Prenger – have been together for a long time. It’s hard to believe they won’t make that count for something.

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3)  Tri-Village has people in southwest Darke County packing even opposing gyms to see the Lady Patriots win, and they’ve won a lot. Until Versailles knocked them off last week, they were 19-0.

They’ve got size, they can play with physical teams, but what they lacked against Versailles was the ability to score while playing physical against physical teams. They didn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter on that night, and somewhere along the tournament trail you’ll have to overcome the rim if you’re going to survive.

They’ve beaten some good teams, but I don’t know if they’ve beaten enough good teams in their league to prepare them for what comes ahead in the district and regional rounds.

But I like Brad Gray and the obvious vision he has for his team. He took the Versailles loss not as a winning streak broken, but as an object lesson for what lies ahead. Pretty cool when you can look at the big picture like that.

Minster features experience with Rosie Westerbeck (above) and the advantage of having played plenty of tough competition.

Minster features experience with Rosie Westerbeck (above) and the advantage of having played plenty of tough competition.

4) The two times that I saw Ft. Recovery they scored at will, against younger more inexperienced teams.  But again, what happens when you play more experienced teams like Versailles and Minster?

The point is, there’s a lot of predictable wins in their stellar mark to this point, but as coach Brian Patch said to me a month ago…what matters is what we do against those two teams (Versailles and Minster). They fell to Versailles a month ago, and the Minster game comes this week.

5) You have to have Tipp City on this list, in Division II, because on a given night they’ve proven capable of beating the top team on our list, the Versailles Tigers.

What they do at Tipp is play defense like their hair’s on fire. They’ve always done that, benefiting from turnovers and easy buckets in transition.

But what’s always happened to them is a team like Kettering Alter in the tournament, a team that has multiple weapons and the ability to adjust style of play to fit a given opponent. It’s another year now, and they’ll get another shot at it. Who knows? It’s why they play the games.

6) I’ll conclude by saying that Jackson Center has something special, and it’s probably the experience of having been to Columbus last spring and realizing afterwards…that they were better than they played on that given day.

It says something about any Shelby County League program when you finish ahead of Loramie, Anna, and Russia. Saw them play early, and they’ve only improved since then. They’ll give Tiger fans plenty of cheer about come the tournament because you get the sense they play with an air of over-achieving. It took them a long way last year. Who’s to say it can’t happen again?

United Building Materials is proud to sponsor coverage of Buckeye baseball on Press Pros Magazine. com.

United Building Materials is proud to sponsor coverage of Buckeye baseball on Press Pros Magazine. com.

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