Sean Hoxworth photos
Just how much the West Holmes Knights have improved may not have come from the team’s four wins this season, but rather from its 47-43 loss to Wooster at West Holmes High School on Friday, Dec. 22.
Wooster is regarded as the top team in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, and last year the Generals put a pair of thrashings on the Knights that they would have sooner forgotten.
In this contest Wooster jumped out to a large lead early in the game. In the past couple of years, West Holmes would have wilted, succumbed to the frantic pace and pressure defense of the Generals, and limped away to play again, but that wasn’t going to be the case this time around.
“I thought our effort was outstanding all night,” West Holmes coach Keith Troyer said. “I think the last couple of years we might have struggled to get back into a game like this, but this is a different team and a different year. We fell behind, but we never hung our heads, and we kept working to get back into it.”
Led by Dylan Dagley and Calvin Blair, Wooster turned a four-point lead into a 13-point advantage by creating a 9-2 run to begin the second period. It was about that time the former Knights teams would have folded. Instead, the Knights faced their fears, withstood the Generals’ pressure and began clawing their way back into the game.
Trailing by six at the half, West Holmes got going early on the strength of Shane Jones’ inside presence and applied a rugged 2-3 zone that seemed to create issues for Wooster’s offense. With Jacob Goudy and Jones playing well in the middle, West Holmes trimmed the deficit to two points until Colton Sparks hit a short jumper to end the third period with the Generals up 36-32.
The game would continue to be a thriller right down to the wire as neither team could get the other to budge. Jones hit inside, and then after a stop he scored on a tip-in to draw the Knights to within one at 39-38.
“Shane continues to get better and better, and he played a huge role in helping us get back into that game,” Troyer said.
With the pressure on, Wooster responded, and it was Blair stepping up and making some big plays. His score pushed Wooster to a three-point lead. Then after Goudy missed a turnaround jumper in the lane, Blair sank two free throws. He then made a key steal and went the distance to give Wooster some breathing room at 45-38.
Chance Wells missed on a drive, but after Sparks misfired on the front end of a one-and-one, Chase Wells made a pair of charity tosses to make it 45-40. Ethan Kinsey then stepped in and made a huge defensive play, deflecting a pass to Mekhi Johnson, who fired the ball ahead to Chase Wells, who stepped into a three-ball and nailed it with just over 30 seconds to play to get West Holmes within 45-43.
However, forced to foul, the Knights picked the wrong guy in Blair, who calmly dropped both free throws with 28 seconds to play for a 47-43 lead. Chase Wells had his shot blocked, and Jones’ tip-in attempt didn’t find the mark, but Wooster missed another free throw, and West Holmes had one final shot at making something happen. But inbounding with 10 seconds to play, Chance Wells’ 3-point attempt didn’t fall with four seconds left, and Wooster had survived a stiff challenge from West Holmes.
“While we only had a few turnovers, the ones we did have came at some pretty crucial times,” Troyer said of his Knights.
The West Holmes head coach said that while the game shows obvious improvement over the past couple of seasons, his team understands there is still plenty of work to do as the season progresses.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, and these guys know that,” Troyer said. “Some of our young kids are giving us some nice minutes, but they have a lot to learn. We are also getting some solid leadership from our seniors, and that is going to help us improve as the season goes on.”
Wooster improved to 5-1 and stayed perfect atop the OCC while the Knights fell to 4-3 overall and 0-2 in league play, but it was a huge step in a very good direction for a Knights team that continues to gain plenty of belief in itself.
Blair led all scorers with 15 points, adding 10 rebounds and three steals, while Sparks netted 13 points with Dagley adding seven and Jett Morgan pitching in with six.
West Holmes was led in scoring by Chase Wells, who scored 14 points, but it was Jones who continues to grow into a starring role. The junior scored 10 points and hauled down a whopping 15 rebounds. Chance Wells added eight points, eight rebounds and three assists with Kinsey adding five points.