DAYTON —With Kyle Sexton spending Friday’s final four minutes and 23 seconds as the Tigers’ top cheerleader, that meant one of three things.
Either the Tigers were winning comfortably, losing handily, or —as the worst-case scenario for New Boston’s boisterous fan base played out inside University of Dayton Arena — Sexton fouled out.
And, it came at the absolute worst time.
In a 1-2 gut-punch to the Tigers’ dreams of playing for Sunday’s state championship, Columbus Grove first threw a body blow — by Gabe Clement canning a third-quarter half-court buzzer-beater, which suddenly sliced the Tigers’ largest lead of 10 (44-34) down to seven (44-37).
But the power-packed right hand to the Tigers’ face was actually an over-the-back — as Sexton, New Boston’s six-foot five-inch senior standout and two-time Division IV Southeast District Player of the Year, was whistled for his fifth and final personal foul.
In the end, and despite junior Brady Voiers scoring the Tigers’ final five points over a span of a minute and 25 seconds to with 2:58 remaining, New Boston couldn’t fend off the hard-charging and fellow senior-heavy Bulldogs —as the Tigers fell 58-53 in the second Division IV state semifinal.
Both teams had entered the contest at 24-2 and as regional champions, and it was hotly-contested throughout — with a pair of lead changes and three ties (6-6, 30-30 and 37-37), and New Boston’s biggest advantage finally reaching double digits.
At the time of that critical call, the Tigers’ cliffhanger of a lead stood at 48-44, but a bang-bang miss of back-to-back rebound putbacks by Tanner Voiers and Sexton unfortunately set Sexton up to be called for his fifth — going over a Bulldog back in attempting to corral his 10th rebound.
Instead, a shell-shocked Sexton reacted to the whistle by putting his hands over his head —and immediately beelining for the Tigers’ locker-room he was that deeply upset and in disbelief about it.
But cooler heads quickly prevailed, Sexton returned to the New Boston bench area, and spent the final 4:23 truly trying his hardest in exhorting his teammates.
The Bulldogs, though, finished the game on a 14-5 run — as Blake Reynolds made two free throws, Tayt Birnesser knocked down two winged three-pointers, Reynolds twice scored inside at the rim, and the football quarterback Reynolds threw a perfect touchdown strike to Clement for a layup to end it.
Sexton, in the postgame press conference, said simply “it was a wild last four years with a lot of ups and downs and tough losses and big wins, but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”
However, he would indeed change the call for his fifth foul.
“The way they were calling the game, I just went up for a rebound. Just like any other player. Then they call a ticky-tack foul right then and there? I was just pissed off. That’s the only way I can say it. I was just mad,” said Sexton. “You’re going to give me my fifth foul on that call in a state semifinal game?”
The senior went on to offer a history lesson for the assembled statewide media —and that Friday’s fifth foul wasn’t the first time that New Boston has been impacted by such a situation in a state semifinal.
Apparently, lightning struck twice —despite those strikes coming 61 years apart.
“That’s how it happened in 1960 too. New Boston was ahead, and their 6-6 center Winnie Keaton fouled out in the last four minutes,” said Sexton. “New Boston ended up losing by three or four points. It’s just disbelief, man.”
Sexton stated that had he remained in the game all the way until the bitter end, “I was going to seal the game with free throws.”
But with Sexton out, and the Bulldogs regaining the lead at 54-53 and 1:45 remaining, Voiers missed on a drive down the lane despite getting knocked to the floor —and senior De’Von Jones, who scored 12 points to trail only Sexton’s 14, missed a deuce and a trey.
“Definitely changes the approach when you lose your all-state player, four-year senior and three-year captain. It took a lot of wind out of us and it was definitely big,” said New Boston coach Adam Cox. “After playing such a hard 28-and-a-half minutes for that foul to be called in that situation…unfortunately it wasn’t let go. I think if we would have had Kyle out there, we would have found a way to win that game.”
Of course, Columbus Grove coach Chris Sautter said Sexton’s foul-out impacted positively for his team.
Sexton is considered by some observers as the possible front-runner to win the state’s Division IV POY award.
“He is one heckuva of a basketball player. With his size and his ability to pass the ball, it really made it hard to trap them and be aggressive defensively. When he went out, we felt like we could extend the floor defensively, and pick them up full-court and really trap them half-court,” said Sautter.
Indeed, the Bulldogs boosted their defensive pressure for the final 4:23 — relegating Sexton to the mere role of cheerleader.
And that, unfortunately for the Tigers, was a worst-case scenario.
“It just sucks the way it ended, man,” said Sexton.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved