By Timothy Kays
VAN WERT: March 4, 2014 – The Pettisville Blackbirds, champions of the Bryan D-IV Sectionals and co-champions of the BBC, took their show on the road to The Den in Van Wert to take on the D-IV and GMC champion Wayne Trace Raiders in the opening round of the D-IV Districts. The task ahead of the Battling ‘Birds was, in a word, daunting.
Pettisville came into the game with a 13-11 record after escaping the North Central Eagles on a buzzer beater by Korben Rychener to cut the nets in Bryan. Wayne Trace, as Pettisville quickly found out, is no North Central.
The Eagles had one man over six feet in height in stature…Chase Legacy at 6′ 4″. Pettisville also had one man over six foot…Austin Dykstra at 6′ 2″. The parity in size and speed made for a great championship game, but with the Districts now in play, the Blackbirds were looking at something that they had not seen all season.
The Pettisville roster has 10 players, two of which are six foot and over. The #10-ranked Raiders have 13 on their roster, only two of which are UNDER six feet. The other eleven players that make up the Raiders are at least six feet in height. It got more daunting from there for the Pettisville boys considering that four are 6′ 3″, two are 6′ 5″ and one is 6′ 6″. In what initially appeared to be a basketball match between the Gullivers and the Lilliputians, there came into play two factors that do not appear on any stat sheet or program guide though…the speed and heart of Pettisville. When the Raiders were poised to stomp the Blackbirds like grapes, those two factors frustrated the giants, and although Wayne Trace eventually prevailed by a 47-37 score, they were only able to do so by burying free throws down the stretch.
Pettisville scored first on an Austin Dykstra bucket, but the Raiders were quick to reply. At that point, using their superior height at every position, it looked like the Raiders were simply going to squash the Blackbirds with their size advantage, but the Pettisville boys did what they do best to get back into the game…remain cool and ramp up the speed. The Raiders’ momentum was slowed, and the Blackbirds began to get back into the flow of the game.
Their speed left the Wayne Trace squad at times looking like giants swatting at flies, and as a result they began to rack up fouls. The advantage did not immediately shift to Pettisville though, as Wayne Trace Coach Jim Linder simply replaced one giant with another, but it did accelerate the pace to which the Blackbirds were able to get into the one-and-one free throw opportunities. By the end of the first period, Pettisville had climbed back to within a bucket at 10-8, and they continued to buzz the ball around the perimeter with quick, precision passing in the second, allowing them to not just tie the game, but also to reclaim slim one point leads before going into the half tied at 18-18.
The start of the second half proved to be the deciding factor in the game as a series of Pettisville turnovers turned into Wayne Trace transitional points, giving them a lead that they would not surrender. The first four Blackbirds’ possessions became turnovers and transitional points as the Raiders clamped down with a trapping 1-3-1 zone. The Raiders carried a 31-23 lead into the fourth, but they were never able to get the Boys in Black out of their rearview mirrors as the persistent Pettisville speed continued to harass and push their opponents.
The Battling ‘Birds again began the steep climb out of the hole, but this time it was simply too deep, and the Wayne Trace defense too strong to allow many open looks. To make matters worse, the war of attrition in fouls was beginning to take its toll on the Blackbirds, but they did not enjoy the same bench depth that the Raiders did. When top defender in Jeremy Mann fouled out with 1:47 left in the game and Pettisville down by five, the uphill climb only became steeper, and when Korben Rychener gave his final foul a minute later, the task became even harder. The Raiders made good on their free throw opportunities down the stretch to expand the lead out to ten at the final buzzer.
“We knew they were going to bring the heat; we knew that we were going to have to answer, and obviously we did,” said Pettisville Head Coach Greg Nofziger. “I thought that the kids battled back in the fourth. We had to sit down and just play one possession at a time, and I thought that we were trying to make some runs, but obviously we dug ourselves too deep of a hole in the third…and they’re too good of a team to be down to like that. You can’t get down to a team that has that much quality all the way around and give them ten points…that just doesn’t work.”
The defeat ends the Blackbirds’ season, as well as the careers of seniors Mann, Dykstra, Rychener and Jacob Reyes. “Jacob Reyes had a great attitude for us all year, and he really improved for us from the start of the year to the end of the year,” Coach Nofziger said as he talked about his seniors. “Jeremy Mann just became our defensive stopper…he did an excellent job all year long. It’s kind of a thankless job, but he certainly stepped up and did it. Dykstra, as the season progressed, he became more and more of a leader on our rebounding, and did an excellent job for us down the stretch. Korben Rychener…when the season started, Korben maybe didn’t know he was our leader, but he was. As the season progressed, he found out that he was. We had confidence in him; he had confidence in himself and just had a great year.”
Rychener hung up his high tops with a team high 12 points, while Tate Kauffman had 7 points and Dykstra 6. Josh Liechty finished with 5 points, Mann had 3, and Eli King and Noah Miller each had 2 points.
SCORING BY QUARTER:
Wayne Trace 10 8 13 16 – 47
Pettisville 6 12 5 14 – 37
Timothy Kays can be reached at email@example.com