WELLSTON — At first, blood could be seen streaming down the cheek of Jonathan Strickland’s face.
Even more unfortunate for Strickland, and in the end soon after, that blood was replaced by his tears of sadness.
That’s because the standout’s senior season, and consequently his Notre Dame boys basketball career, came to an untimely end on Saturday afternoon —as the ninth-seeded Titans, too deep in the hole for fouls and subsequent Trimble Tomcats free throws, fell 49-48 in a Division IV district semifinal at Wellston High School.
For the Titans, it was a sad but true tale of taking the 20-win and top-seeded squad in the Southeast District’s Division IV all the way to the wire —with Notre Dame leading in fact for the game’s opening 27 minutes and five seconds.
The Titans took a lead as large as 16-7 only 30 seconds into the second quarter, and maintained anywhere from a two-point to eight-point advantage— until a minute and 19 tics remained in the third.
In addition, Notre Dame dialed up 18 total field goals to Trimble’s 13 —including a 5-3 edge in three-point goals, spearheaded by Strickland’s four towards his team-high 18 points.
However, and it’s certainly not what ultimately cost the Titans the triumph, but there was for sure an elephant in the room —or rather the spacious Wellston High School gymnasium.
In the numbers never lie, and can’t be ignored, department —Notre Dame was whistled for 28 personal fouls to Trimble’s 10, while naturally the Tomcats took full advantage of their parade to the free-throw line.
The Tomcats, under legendary and longtime Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division coach Howie Caldwell, took 34 attempts —and meshed 20.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, hit 7-of-10.
Defensively, the Titans played primarily a half-court zone —while the Tomcats pressed much more in the contest.
Afterwards, amid a dejected Titans’ locker-room, NDHS head coach Matt Mader was asked directly about the free throws and called fouls disparities.
Cody Metzler and Jermaine Powell both fouled out, Strickland and Dylan Seison both finished with four, and Carson Sammons and Carter Campbell collected three apiece.
Mader took the high road on the interview question, and said some Titans turnovers and empty possessions played significant roles as well.
Trimble snapped the Titans’ 11-game winning streak, as Notre Dame —with a final record of 16-7 —was making its first district semifinal appearance in eight years (2014).
“We knew coming in that they are a tough and physical team. We needed to get on the glass and limit their second and third-chance opportunities. When you give those guys two, three or four opportunities around the rim, they are just really good. Give Trimble a lot of credit. We knew they were going to do it, and we tried to stop it. We did at times and played very well through three quarters, but we just couldn’t sustain it,” said Mader. “They were trying to beat our zone before it got set up, and when we got into foul trouble, we got out of sorts with rotations and different things. And they put a lot of pressure on you. They came right back at us in the fourth quarter, we had some guys foul out and just didn’t have enough at the end. We were hoping us playing zone most of the day would keep us out of foul trouble. But Trimble did such a nice job in transition and pushing it at us before we could get set up.”
Indeed, Trimble tried to rally from behind all game — and finally tied the Titans at 31-31 with nine minutes and 19 seconds to play.
The Tomcats tied it again at 37-37, before Blake Guffey —Trimble’s talented and highly-touted senior standout and scoring machine — canned a corner-pocket three-pointer with 4:55 remaining.
It gave the Athens Countians and now 21-1 Tomcats a 40-38 lead —as all Notre Dame did from there was tie Trimble twice (at 40-40 and at 43-43).
Prior to the fourth frame, Guffey got to the charity stripe 11 times over the middle two cantos —going 5-of-7 in the second stanza, and 3-of-4 in the third.
Bryce Downs shot eight over the first three quarters and only made two, but Notre Dame personals piled up —paving Trimble’s way with 15 fourth-quarter freebies, including 5-of-5 by Guthrie, 3-of-6 by Austin Wisor, and 2-of-2 by Michael Clark.
The Tomcats’ final seven points were all via free throws, as Guffey gained two two-point goals —sandwiched around his dagger delivery for a trifecta.
For the game, he had half-a-dozen total buckets, combined with 13-of-16 foul shots, for a massive game-high of 26 points.
“You have to give Guffey a lot of credit, because that kid can really play,” said Mader.
So can Downs and Tyler Weber, who both made three field goals —including a pair of first-half Weber three-balls.
Clark converted a first-quarter field goal as well.
Strickland paced the Titans with 18 points —on three deuces and four treys.
His fourth and final three from the wing went for the 43-43 tie with 1:44 to go, but his go-ahead triple try on the ensuring Notre Dame possession didn’t fall —and Guffey grabbed the rebound with the Tomcats leading 45-43.
Two more Guffey freebies, followed by two Wisor splits, made it 47-43 and 49-45 in the final 53 seconds — as Sammons swished a buzzer-beating three-pointer for the 49-48 final.
That shot gave the senior Sammons eight points, as fellow seniors Powell and Jarren Edgington added two baskets apiece for four.
A key figure for Notre Dame’s dominance early on was Dominic Sparks —the six-foot and seven-inch and improved junior, who scored all but one of his 10 markers through the opening three salvos.
The Tomcats’ tallest regular rotation player is 6-1, so Sparks had a big day on the blocks.
Speaking of blocks, Mader said the senior fivesome — which includes Edgington, Strickland, Sammons, Powell and Gary Zheng — has been the cornerstone builders in the program’s resurrection.
Two years ago, Notre Dame endured a 2-21 campaign.
The 11 consecutive victories is what Mader may remember most about this unit, and it could have been better by the dozen —although Strickland’s sweat, blood and tears were of the unfortunate kind come game’s end.
“I’m so proud of our kids and our effort, for turning this thing around midseason. We were 5-6, and we reeled off 11 wins in a row. We won at Waterford, where not a lot of people gave us a chance there, but we came away with the sectional title. Then we play the number-one seed so tough all the way today, and whose only loss was on a half-court buzzer-beater. There’s a lot to be said for our kids and how resilient they were,” said the coach. “They just decided halfway through the season that this wasn’t the way we wanted to go out, and they did the things we asked them to do to turn this around. These five seniors have meant a lot to this program. We’ve been down for a while, but we’ve turned the corner, and that’s because of these guys.”
* * *
Notre Dame 14 12 11 11—48
Trimble 7 15 10 17 — 49
NOTRE DAME 48 (16-7)
Carson Sammons 3 1-2 8, Jermaine Powell 2 0-0 4, Carter Campbell 0 0-0 0, Dylan Seison 1 0-0 2, Johnathan Strickland 7 0-0 18, Cody Metzler 0 2-2 2, Dominic Sparks 3 4-6 10, Jarren Edgington 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 18 7-10 48 ; Three-point field goals: 2 (Johnathan Strickland 4, Carson Sammons 1)
TRIMBLE 49 (21-1)
Will Freeborn 0 0-0 0, Tucker Dixon 0 0-0 0, Blake Guffey 6 13-16 26, Tyler Weber 3 0-2 8, Brandon Burdette 0 0-0 0, Austin Wisor 0 3-6 3, Bryce Downs 3 2-8 8, Michael Clark 1 2-2 4; TOTALS 13 20-34 49 ; Three-point field goals: 3 (Tyler Weber 2, Blake Guffey 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved