By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
CLAYTON — In the end, first-year Miami East boys basketball coach Justin Roeth’s take on their tournament matchup could be applied to the Vikings’ entire season.
“I’m proud of our guys. We faced adversity at times, and we bounced back,” he said.
The 17th-seeded Vikings took on No. 4 National Trail — which defeated them in the regular season and won the Cross County Conference title — in the second round of the Division III sectional tournament Thursday at Northmont High School, and the Blazers used a 10-point run at the end of the first half to pull away enough to knock off Miami East 53-40.
National Trail, which beat the Vikings 54-44 back on Jan. 4 and improved to an impressive 20-3 on the season, advanced to face No. 7 West Liberty-Salem in Saturday’s district semifinal. And, despite a rousing pregame speech by Roeth, the Vikings’ season came to a close at 10-13.
“My pregame speech worked right up until two minutes before half,” Roeth said with a smile. “When we look back at the overall game, there’s just that one segment at the end of the second quarter that was the difference. It was a 10-0 run, and we lose the game by 13 points. And that was the difference.”
The Blazers began the game hot, with Cameron Harrison hitting a pair of 3s to put his team up 10-4 and force a Viking timeout at the 3:07 mark of the first quarter. Harrison hit another 3, though, until a 3 by Sam Zapadka snapped that 10-0 run and ended the first quarter with East trailing 15-7.
Harrison finished the night with five 3-pointers and a game-high 23 points.
“We bounced back,” Roeth said. “I looked up and called a timeout when the score was 10-4. We just needed to regroup our guys, because we were a little unfocused. We just lost our focus a few times on defense, and Harrison got open looks — and you just can’t give a player like that open looks.
“Harrison’s the CCC Player of the Year, (Zach) Woodall is tall and athletic, the (Tyler) Weathington guy does a good job and they have a few other good role players. We knew we’d be facing a giant, but we battled back.”
Zapadka got the Vikings back into the game in the second quarter, hitting a jumper to give him 14 first-half points, cut the lead to 21-16 and force a timeout by Trail with 3:06 left in the half. But Harrison hit a 3 and the Blazers converted three East turnovers into points to build a 31-16 halftime lead, and scored the first bucket of the third quarter to lead by as many as 17 points after the 12-0 run.
The Vikings began to spread the ball out in the second half, though, cutting the Blazers’ lead to 41-30 heading into the final quarter. Zapadka twice hit shots early in the fourth to cut the lead to single digits at 41-32 and 43-34, but Colton Toms hit a 3 and Woodall converted a steal into a fast-break layup, and the Vikings got no closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“We played well in the second half,” Roeth said. “Sam was getting a little exhausted, because for a little while he was our only scorer. In the second half, we started to spread some things out and some other guys scored and took some pressure off Sam. But we needed to rebound a little better. In the second half, when we were starting to cut into the lead, we gave up some offensive rebounds that ended up being putbacks in crucial moments. Just some things we needed to do better.”
After Harrison’s 23, Weathington added 10 points and six rebounds and Woodall had eight points and nine rebounds as the Blazers outrebounded the Vikings 30-29 in the game. Toms and Coleton Everman each added six points, as well, as Trail also won the turnover battle 16-8.
Zapadka scored 22 points to lead the Vikings, Keegan Mahaney had six points and seven rebounds, Noah King had four points, Collen Gudorf had three points and four rebounds, Brendon Bertsch had three points and Aaron Lawrence had two points and eight rebounds.
“We improved a ton from the beginning of the season to now,” Roeth said. “At the start of the season, we had some issues facing adversity, and I feel like we grew as a team. The outcome wasn’t a win, but I can still be proud of how my guys played.”
It was the final game in the careers of the Vikings’ four seniors: Bertsch, Mahaney, Lawrence and Tyler Stapleton.
“We’re going to miss them,” Roeth said. “Brendon is a three-year starter, so we’ll have to fill a gap there. Keegan is such a great leader for us, Aaron is a hustler and Tyler is a great leader. We’re excited for the future with the young guys we have coming back, and those guys that we’re going to miss have been instrumental in getting us to where we are now.
“These kids have accepted change this year. I mean, we won a few games playing man-to-man defense from start to finish this year. When was the last time that happened at Miami East? And that’s what makes me proud. These kids have faced adversity all year, and they’ve gotten through it.”
Contact Josh Brown at [email protected], or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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