ATHENS — Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Green Bobcats’ boys basketball program began to realize the vast potential that it had in front of it.
In addition to posting a strong 16-8 overall record, Green — with, mind you, just one senior on its entire roster — won the first sectional title for the school since 2005 and advanced to district final competition for the first time since the 1999 campaign.
And while the Bobcats ultimately fell one game short of a regional berth with a 75-56 loss to Peebles on Saturday afternoon at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. It was simply because the Indians were a better team — and that’s something that Dirk Hollar can live with.
“Hat’s off to Peebles,” Hollar said. “We saw them on film and saw how good they were, but man, when it’s live and you’re playing against them, they’re a different beast. Their leadership really showed. They’ve got seniors who were here last year, so we’re kind of in their boat. This is our first time here, and it’s great that we’ve had this experience.”
During the opening quarter of action, Green received excellent offensive production from Zach Huffman and Gage Sampson, who combined for 11 of Green’s 13 opening quarter tallies. However, in what became a recurring theme all evening long, the trio of Weston Browning, Bostin Robinson, and Tanner Arey proved to be too much to hold down.
In all, the trio combined for 20 of Peebles’ 22 tallies in the opening quarter of play, with Robinson and Arey combining for 18 points alone in the frame alone, as Green was blitzed by a 9-4 count to end the quarter and fell behind by a 22-13 tally.
“Hat’s off to (Josh) Arey, his son, Tanner, and that team,” Hollar said. “They played phenomenal. They crashed the boards and killed us in that area, and we couldn’t get shots to fall. It snowballed from there, and the next thing I know, we’re down double-digits. I was saying, ‘Ah, man, here we go.’ I just kept telling the boys to fight, fight, fight, and they continued to do that as they have every single day. Hat’s off to Peebles. They’re really, really good, and I wish them the best of luck. They were very active, and we thought that we could be them on the boards, but we didn’t.”
Then, in the second quarter, Browning took matters into his own hands.
While Green managed to answer an early 4-0 Peebles barrage at the beginning of the second quarter with two buckets down low from Huffman and a basket each from Sampson, Tayte Carver, and Tanner Kimbler to cut the lead to a 31-23 margin after trailing 27-13 early in the second frame, Browning, behind his crafty ballhandling, deft passing, and clever finishing ability, scored eight of his game-high 23 points in the frame for the Indians to keep the Bobcats from making a late run to end the first half as Peebles took a 41-30 halftime advantage.
“I actually hugged (Weston Browning) and told him, ‘You’re a heck of a ball player,’” Hollar said. “He took care of the basketball and was so quick with and without the ball in his hands. I thought that he played a tremendous game. We knew about him, but he really stepped it up tonight. Hat’s off to those guards for doing their job and to the bigs for continuing to crash, crash, crash.”
Still, when one considered the fact that Carver and Kimbler — who only had six points combined — hadn’t broken out yet, the 41-30 deficit was certainly a manageable one to come back from — especially considering that Green had already done it twice against Ironton St. Joseph and Trimble earlier in the postseason when the pair were held to similar scoring totals in the opening half.
“That’s what we told the boys at halftime,” Hollar said. “We said, ‘Hey, we’ve been in this position before. We’ve been down 10, down 11, down 12. I knew that they were going to continue to fight for us, and continue to get out in transition.”
But even though Green was able to keep the deficit at 10, 47-37, midway through the quarter, Browning’s efforts proved to be too much to overcome. The sophomore ultimately added nine more tallies in the frame — including each of Peebles’ final six points in the third quarter of play — to increase the lead to a 57-41 margin at the end of the third, and from there, the Bobcats never cut the lead below 14 as Peebles kept control from there.
“We tried to get out in transition, but in the fourth quarter, we were gassed. That’s the first time I’ve seen that. (Tony) Kimbler (Green assistant coach) said to me, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever seen our kids get tired.’ Usually, we’re the ones pushing the ball up the floor, finishing, and pulling away, but tonight, we just didn’t have it.”
Still, this year’s postseason run certainly marks as the beginning of what could be a special time. Green not only returns all five of its starters to the 2018-19 squad, but will likely see an increase in its depth with an undefeated, 21-0, junior varsity squad adding their contributions into the varsity mix.
To make a successful leap, however, each of the players on this year’s roster will have to accept their roles — which was something that the lone departing senior, Rylee Maynard, did as the team’s sixth man. Maynard was a proficient three-and-D player whose ability to accept a complimentary role allowed the team to excel as much as it did in 2017-18.
“Rylee and I have been through everything together,” Hollar said. “We’ve been in some dark places together, and we’ve been in some of the happiest moments together. He’s one of the first people that I wanted to give the big old hug too, and we had a little emotional moment in there together. I’m going to miss him to death.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT