ATHENS — This past week has proven to be one of the best weeks in school history, from an athletic standpoint, for the Green Bobcats’ boys basketball program.
On Tuesday evening, Green, for the first time in 13 years, advanced to the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens by defeating Ironton St. Joseph, 60-56, to win a sectional championship — a goal it hadn’t accomplished since 2005.
However, Tuesday’s thrilling victory was simply just a precursor to what was about to come.
After watching the Trimble Tomcats’ boys basketball program take an early 10-point advantage early in the first half, the Bobcats switched to a box-and-one defense in order to limit the effectiveness of high-scoring Trimble guard Randy Hixson in the opening half of play, and battled back to cut the first-half deficit to a five-point margin (27-22) as a result.
And when the Tomcats opened the lead back up to an 11-point margin during the third quarter of action (40-29), Tayte Carver and Tanner Kimbler proceeded to put on a display that was truly one for the ages as far as Bobcat lore is concerned.
Carver, who scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half, and Kimbler, who added 14 of his 19 in the final pair of stanzas, simply would not let Green depart the Convo with a loss as the Bobcats used a 31-14 second-half run to completely change the complexion of the affair as the Bobcats used excellent two-way action and a never-say-die attitude to pull out a 68-66 thriller over Trimble in a Division IV, Athens II District Semifinal matchup on Sunday afternoon in Athens.
For Dirk Hollar, the contest was nothing less than pure guts and determination from the boys in green.
“Everybody takes about Tanner, Tanner, and Tanner,” Hollar said. “Tanner is an outstanding talent, and he is always more than deserving of the accolades that he receives. But at the same time, we are more than just Tanner Kimbler, and it showed tonight. Tayte went off, and everybody played their roles to a tee.”
After battling Trimble to a 9-9 deadlock early on, the Tomcats put together an early one-two combo as Trimble — behind the play of Randy Hixson, who scored six points during the run — went on a 16-5 spurt en route to taking a 20-12 first-quarter lead on Hixson’s three with one second left. The Tomcats eventually took a 25-14 advantage as Trimble’s 12-2 run allowed Howie Caldwell’s squad to take control early.
However, Green made sure that Trimble wouldn’t get away from its grasp. Behind buckets from Carver, Kimbler, Gage Sampson, and Zach Huffman, the Bobcats went on a quarter ending 8-2 push to cut the Trimble lead to five, 27-22, at halftime.
“We went to the box-and-one, and that was huge,” Hollar said. “We talked about doing it. We wanted to feel out Trimble during the first quarter to see if we could hang with them, but they ran so many good back screens, plus a very effective flex cut, that were hard to stop. So we just looked at each other during the second quarter, and we all agreed that we had to go to the box-and-one. It was the perfect time to do it. They still hit shots, and had other guys who made plays, but for the most part, they were not as effective offensively as they had been over the opening eight to 10 minutes.”
In the third quarter of action, the Tomcats, behind a balanced effort that was led by four Hixson points, used a 13-6 gap to increase its advantage to 11 early in the third period. However, Carver and Kimbler, who were each very good in the first half and outstanding in the second pair of stanzas, rallied the troops as the pair combined to score every one of Green’s points in a 21-point third-quarter for the Bobcats. Carver, on his own, scored seven straight points, including a tough and-one finish through contact, a three-point basket from the right wing with 58 seconds to play in the frame, and a runner with less than 15 seconds to play that put Green within 46-43 at the end of three.
“I started them as freshmen,” Hollar said of his two junior standouts. “People told me that I was crazy and stupid. They told me that they were too small and that they couldn’t play, and look what they did. They have each made huge leaps this year. That’s what you have to do. If I don’t have the guys, I’ll start freshmen. I don’t care what grade you’re in. If you can play basketball, you listen, and you remain coachable, you’re going to do a good job.”
In the fourth quarter, however, the pair only continued to be aided by the outstanding energy that Zach Huffman, Gage Sampson, Caden Blizzard, Rylee Maynard, and Ethan Huffman — the latter of whom did an excellent job producing in a pinch with Sampson having to deal with foul trouble — brought to the defensive end of the floor.
Zach Huffman, especially, was outstanding on Hixson, who scored 22 points but collected 17 of those 22 points over the first eight minutes of the game and the last minute of the affair. The freshman was vital on the offensive end as well as the energetic forward cleverly finished a basket on the left block to cut the Trimble lead to a single point, 46-45, during the first possession of the fourth quarter, then, after a pair of free throws from Sampson, finished through contact on the right block to collect an and-one that put Green in front, 50-49, with 6:15 to play. Kimbler then followed with a steal and coast-to-coast layup that put the Bobcats up by a 52-49 margin with 5:31 to play.
“The defensive job that Zach did on (Randy) Hixson was amazing,” Hollar said. “That’s all we’ve heard about all week was Hixson this and Hixson that. I had stuff on the board where people had said that we weren’t going to win this game and that we couldn’t stop him, and by God, we just played absolutely amazing. We put Huffman on (Joey) McDavid (last Tuesday) and we put him on Hixson today, and he did an outstanding job both times. You can’t say anything else other than the fact that Zach Huffman flat out D’s it up.”
“We’ve been screaming it since the summer, ‘You’re not going to win anything unless you play defense,’” Hollar continued. “It’s finally coming along.”
However, when Trimble followed with a huge 5-0 run to take the lead back (54-52), Carver simply turned on the afterburners. The junior moved up the floor and scored on a fastbreak to tie the game, while Sampson boarded and put back a Carver miss to give the Bobcats the lead back. The former then followed up Sampson’s putback with a huge jumper from the right wing after another rebound, fought inside to draw contact that led to two free throws, and hit not one, but two simply ridiculous jumpers from the right side that looked good all the way. The 6-0 junior was feeling it, and Trimble was out of luck — and time.
“The last shot he took, I thought I was going to come out on the floor and yell at him because I was telling him to hold it,” Hollar said. “He shot it, and man, it went in. The kid was just not going to miss a shot in the second half. He needed that game. That was one of those games that we’ve been waiting to see from him. We know that he can absolutely shut people down on the defensive end, but offensively, man, he just lit … it … up in that second half.”
With the victory, Green, who improved to 15-8 overall for the year, sewed up its first district final appearance since the 1998-1999 season. The Bobcats, ironically, will play Peebles — whom Green lost to by a 64-61 tally in overtime in that campaign — on Saturday at 2 p.m.
However, as Hollar said before the tournament began, Green is playing with house money, and the Bobcats — win or lose — are going to go down without fear in their minds or a regret about the overall result.
“We’re in the district finals,” Hollar said. “Win or lose, this is the happiest I’ve ever been coaching basketball.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT