Rewind back to the spring of 1999.
The NCAA still just had two postseason tournaments. The fastest-growing sport nationwide was NASCAR. And LeBron James and Kevin Durant, arguably the two best players in the game of basketball today, were still in the middle of their eighth-grade and fifth-grade school years, respectively.
That was the last time that the Green Bobcats’ boys basketball program made an appearance in the Division IV District Final realm. It also served to be a heartbreaking year as well, as Green, who entered the contest at 21-1 overall and held the tournament’s No. 1 seed, fell to the Peebles Indians’ boys basketball program, on March 10, 1999 by a scant 64-61 overtime margin.
Cinderella didn’t make it back to the dance for another 18 years after that. The 19th year, however, would bear the fruits that the Green faithful have been waiting for oh, so long.
After falling behind by double-digits against Ironton St. Joseph and Trimble in the second half of action, Green, on each occasion, dialed up the heat and made furious rallies for the ages to obtain 60-56 and 68-66 victories in a season that has turned into easily the most exciting campaign since 1999.
With a win on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. against Peebles, Green would not only obtain a Division IV, Athens II District Championship — the school’s first since 1997 — but would also avenge that heartbreaking loss that occurred 19 years to the very day when the Bobcats last squared off against the Indians.
Is it fate for Green? The signs are certainly intriguing.
But one thing’s for sure: fourth-year head coach Dirk Hollar knows that he is playing with house money.
“It’s pretty special,” Hollar said. “I knew that this group was capable of anything. I’ve been waiting for this since I took over at Green. This group of boys, especially Rylee, have taken a lot of butt whoopings, and last year, the ball never bounced our way. So, to be here, playing in a district final with this group is special. It’s something I’ll always remember as will these boys and the community.”
To slow Peebles (14-9), the Bobcats must rely on a defense that has shown an incredible amount of grit over the past two games. Green gave up just 24 second-half points to Ironton St. Joseph en route to rallying back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit, and rallied from a second 11-point deficit against Trimble by going on a 31-14 spurt. Stopping Tanner Arey (22.6 points) and Bostin Robinson (18.5) will absolutely be vital, as the pair are just like their counterparts in Tanner Kimbler and Tayte Carver — a strong one-two scoring punch that can shoot, defend, and show off a great deal of athleticism while doing so.
“Finding (Tanner) Arey and (Bostin) Robinson will be crucial tomorrow,” Hollar said. “We just played against one of the best guards in Southern Ohio in Hixson and now we have to chase Arey around. Robinson is scary too. But to win this game, we will have to defend! Offense wins games and defense wins championships.”
And that means constantly. In fact, whether a basket is made or missed, Hollar wants all attention toward the pair.
“We have to find them as soon as we score,” Hollar said. “When we score, we can’t let them get the ball up the sideline to Arey and we can’t let Robinson grab offensive boards. They are two very talented young men who can go off at any moment, especially Arey. I told Tayte Carver today, ‘Robinson is just like you. He’s everywhere.’ Tough kid.”
If Carver and Kimbler — who scored 28 and 18 points, respectively — in the thrilling two-point victory over Trimble, continue to play at the rate that they did on Friday, Green will be in any game. However, when Gage Sampson throws his 15 points and seven rebounds into the fray, and Caden Blizzard, Zach Huffman, and Rylee Maynard continue to fulfill their end of the bargin as two-way talents, it’s clear that the lead will be highly contested from start to finish.
“I’ve been telling my teams for four years to play your role,” Hollar said. “You might not like your role, and you might not think that should be your role, but if you play your role, and you listen to what we are telling you to do in said role, we will win ball games. Caden Blizzard has played his role perfect this postseason. Zach Huffman knows what he has to do. Gage knows his strengths. The guys coming off the bench know what their job is to do. I was just telling Rylee how important he has been to this team because he isn’t trying to do too much. He’s playing his role. That’s been huge for us during this run.”
And with set roles in stone, along with a team that is in full stride at this point in the year, Hollar feels no need to change anything up — especially when it was the run-and-gun action that got Green to this point.
“Who wants to watch basketball where you walk the ball up the court or you hold it for five minutes,” Hollar said. “Yes, I get it. At this point of the year, it’s all about strategy and game planning. But I love to run! These boys love to run! That is what we are good at. My job is to put these boys in a position to be successful. We are really good at running! The effort is always there with this group. We aren’t going to quit coming at you until the game is over!”
Which means that the overall result — with two evenly-matched opponents set to square off — will come down to three qualities.
“Run,” Hollar said, “defend, and play like there is no tomorrow!”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT