NEW BOSTON – David vs. Goliath, Hickory vs. South Bend Central, a sixteen seed beating a one seed. Whatever moniker people are using to describe the upset nature of New Boston’s regional final game against the #1 team in Ohio in Division IV, Berlin Hiland, the Tigers are all in and are embracing the underdog role.
“With them being the number one team,” said junior captain Malachi Potts. “I think anyone not from New Boston or anyone outside of our program has absolutely zero faith because they’re branded the number one team. The number one team always comes in thinking they have the game won, but us, as the underdog, we’re always going to come in with that fight.”
Berlin Hiland is a machine, there’s no denying that. In this stage of the tournament in regional play, they have their number against Scioto County. In October, the Hawks boys soccer team defeated South Webster 1-0 in the regional semifinals in Marietta while last Saturday, the Hawks girls basketball team defeated the Wheelersburg Pirates 61-23 in the regional championship at Logan High School.
In their run to being named the number one team in the state in Division IV, Berlin Hiland has compiled a 26-1 record with their only loss coming to East Tech, a school out of Cleveland, 55-43 on December 22nd.
But those facts aren’t scaring away this New Boston team, they’re embracing those facts in hopes of pulling off the surprise no one can see coming but themselves.
“Our mindset is definitely different because we realize we’re playing the number one team in the state and that we’re a huge underdog,” said Tigers head coach Adam Cox. “We know that no ones saying we have much of a chance. Our mindset is focused on having something to prove, playing with a purpose type of mentality. We’re focused on what Berlin Hiland brings to the table, but we’re also focused on things we need to do these next couple of days too.”
In New Boston’s run through the district tournament that has included advancing to the district title game for the first time since 1985, claiming their first district title since 1960, sustaining punch after punch from a good Berne Union team on Tuesday, and now leading up to their regional final contest with Hiland, the one thing that has remained constant is the focus and preparation the Tigers come with day in and day out, on and off the court.
New Boston remains the only team to have scored 60 points in their three postseason games this year at the Convo, while the only other team to accomplish that feat more than one time is Sheridan who broke the 60 point mark for the second time in their three games at the Convo Wednesday night against Steubenville.
For the Tigers to give the Hawks their best punch, Cox and his players know how important being able to score in bunches will be to keep things close between themselves and the state’s top team.
“We’re not reading anything into what anyone is saying because everyone that knows New Boston knows that at any given moment,” Cox said. “Someone on my team can get hot and can help carry us. We talked about it today that not a single player can stand up and say, ‘I’m the reason we won’. It takes a team to do what we’ve done.”
When “Sweet” Lou Horvath, legenday announcer at the Convocation Center in Athens, proclaims it’s basketball:30 and it’s lights out at the Convo, New Boston will forget about all the factors of why they’re the underdog.
They’ll forget that this is the school’s first time in this position since 1960. They’ll forget that Berlin Hiland is the number one team in the state. They’ll forget that they have only twelve seniors in their graduating class and are by far the smallest school left in this year’s elite eight.
When their names are called over the PA and the ball is tipped off to begin Friday night’s regional final game with a spot in the final four on the line, the only thing that will matter is playing the game the love, as they’ve done all season, and executing a game plan worthy of winning the game no one is giving them a chance in but themselves.
“We just have to play as one,” said freshman guard Grady Jackson. “Play as a family, more than ever.”
New Boston and Berlin Hiland tipoff at 7:00 p.m. Friday night from Athens at the Convo with a spot in the final four at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on the line.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT