Many teams have seen their seasons come to a close across Ohio, but two from the area still remain.
The Ripley and Peebles boys’ basketball teams have stayed alive, and will put their seasons on the line once again in district semifinal contests this weekend.
The Blue Jays might be playing the best basketball of the season at the right time.
“I don’t know if we’re playing as good as we did as early on, but we’re getting there,” said Ripley coach Rex Woodward. “We just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing and hopefully good things will happen.”
After an early advantage in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference standings, Ripley was unable to come away with the Division I title. They got the last laugh, however, as they’re one of only two Division I teams still playing. The other is Lynchburg-Clay, who finished with a 7-6 conference record.
“We told them the night we found out got eliminated from contention that it’s not a good feeling and hopefully we can use it as motivation,” said Woodward. “We fell short but we still had a great season and maybe we can make the deepest run out of anybody. We’re looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully taking the next step.”
Ripley took down No. 4 Lockland, 57-51, last Saturday and blew out Hillcrest Academy on Wednesday, 87-23. The Blue Jays had 12 different players score in Wednesday’s game, including four in double figures with Ryan Harney, Brian Dunn, Josiah Staggs and Nigel Royal.
“We’re sharing the ball real well. We’ve got some of our playmakers getting to spots they’re comfortable with, we’re getting higher percentage shots and usually that results in better offense,” said Woodward. “We’re sharing the ball and trusting each other and that’s really important for us.”
The two wins earned the top-seeded Blue Jays a date with James Gamble Montessori on Saturday. The Gators are 12-9 and topped the School for Creative Performing Arts, 61-22, on Wednesday. The roster features only two players under 6-feet in Dustin Davis and Jarren Deloach, who average 8.4 and 6.5 points per game, respectively. The two leaders are 6-foot-4 Michael McCants, who averages 14.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, and 6-foot guard Antonio Wilcox, who averages 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.
“The initial scouting report on them is they have great athleticism, they’re a quick team and play aggressive, especially defensively,” said Woodward. “Sometimes they trap in the full court and half court, so we have to be smart with the ball.”
The Blue Jays didn’t win a single postseason game the three seasons leading up to this one. The last time they played in a district semifinal was during the 2009-2010 season. They lost that game, 105-44, to Cincinnati Taft. The last time they won a district semifinal game was during the 2003-2004 season, when they beat Clinton Massie before falling to Reading in overtime of the regional semifinals.
“They seem to really relish that and understand the importance of getting this far. It doesn’t come every season,” said Woodward. “We’re excited for the opportunity and understand that if we play as a team we have a chance to really do something special.”
For Peebles, the playoff path started on Wednesday, following a 12-day layoff from their regular season finale at Ripley, and came away with a 68-50 victory over Whiteoak for a Southeast Division IV sectional title.
Now, they have only a few days to prepare for a district semifinal against No. 3 Waterford on Sunday at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
“Division IV – it’s messed up to where we have 12 days off then three days off. The 12 days gives me time to get high blood pressure and hypertension, but three days it feels like I’m cramming for a test,” said Peebles coach Josh Arey. “All of us have to deal with it and do our best to keep moving forward.”
It’s the team’s first time back in Athens since the 2014-2015 season, when they claimed the district title before falling to Canal Winchester Harvest Prep in the regional semifinals. The next year they were knocked off by Clay, 55-42, in the sectional final and last year they lost a close game to South Webster, 61-59. Both games took place at Northwest High School, and this year Peebles was able to overcome what senior Bostin Robinson referred to during preseason as the “curse at Northwest.”
“You never want to take it for granted in the tournament. It’s not a birthright that you get to advance,” said Arey. “Our kids maybe were a little on edge going into that game, but you couldn’t tell it. They did what they needed to do offensively and defensively and did what they needed to do to win.”
Robinson was a big reason for breaking the curse, notching 22 points to knock off Whiteoak. Tanner Arey and Weston Browning added 15 points each in the game. The eighth-year coach knew the play of those three would be crucial this season, and they’ll need them again against Waterford, who knocked off Symmes Valley, 68-61, in overtime at Meigs High School on Wednesday after surrendering an 18-point halftime lead.
If Arey could develop inexperienced players down low, like Colten Ball, Blake Hawes and Blake Smalley, he knew they’d have a great chance when the postseason came around. He feels that they were able to accomplish that midway through the season, and it showed by winning eight of their last nine regular season games to finish at 17-5 overall. Peebles also ran away with the SHAC Conference Division II title, going 11-2 in conference play.
“We’ve just excelled because kids have accepted their roles. Any time you’re getting to this point in the season, if you have that, have kids willing to accept their roles, you have a chance to be successful,” said Arey. “We got that halfway through the season and it’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
Sunday’s tip is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.