Mysteries abound as Pirates fall 77-63 to Marion Pleasant in regional semi

By Dave Mast

Bigfoot, the Moai statues at Easter Island, who really assassinated John F. Kennedy and crop circles; all are mysteries of life that to this day astound the public.

You can now add to that list this mind bender: How in the world did the Marion Pleasant Spartans boys basketball team lost 11 games in 2015-2016 season.

The Spartans put on an unbelievable display of basketball in their March 9 Ohio University Div. III regional semifinal with Garaway, and walked out of the Convo Center in Athens a 77-63 victory.

Here are the facts leading up to the game. Garaway came into the contest at 23-3, and was on a monster roll. Pleasant came into the contest boasting a none-too-impressive 15-11 mark. Earlier this season on Dec. 28, the Hiland Hawks defeated Pleasant 53-36. In the Div. III New Philadelphia district final, Garaway defeated Hiland 69-47.

This one seemed like a no-brainer, but the game of basketball can be pretty weird sometimes.

How else could a person explain why nobody at the Convo Center could determine exactly why this athletic, driven and dangerous Spartans team has lost 11 games.

Not head coach Ben Snively. Not assistant coach Bob Smith. Not Marion Pleasant’s athletic director, nor its official scorekeeper, nor any of the Marion media members.

Just like the Loch Ness Monster, nobody had an explanation.

Neither did Garaway coach Dave Shutt.

“That’s a good basketball team,” said Shutt of Pleasant. “They were playing .500 basketball, and all of a sudden they are the hot commodity. The way they are playing right now, you really wonder how they struggled to play .500 basketball for so long.”

After Joel Honigford opened the scoring with a bucket inside, Pleasant scored the next nine to go up 9-2. It became an uphill battle for the pirates for the next 29 minutes.

“Getting down the whole game is tough because it does take a lot out of your sails trying to get back,” said Shutt. “Then you press, and you get tired and your shots fall short and you miss free throws, and the concentration suffers because of the mental and physical strain it puts on you.”

Trailing 18-12 after one, the Spartans pushed the lead to 23-14 when Joe Craycraft hit a trey. However, Sammy Gebhardt caught fire and scored seven straight Pirates points, and Garaway was back to within 25-21. Gebhardt’s triple at the halftime buzzer allowed Garaway to stay close at 31-25.

The second half looked like the Pirates of old. Ty Hamsher dished a delectable dime to Cameron Miller (video) for a score and then Hamsher came up with a quick steal and a bucket, forcing Snively to call time out.

However, Garaway could never get over the hump. Trailing 36-31, Dallas Foster split a pair of free throws and Gebhardt drove to cut the deficit to 36-34. At 38-36, Pleasant went on a 6-0 run to build the lead back to eight at 44-36. Garaway responded with a Gebhardt free throw, Hamsher’s pair of charity tosses and a Gebhardt jumper to get back to within three. A pair of Gebhardt free throws near the end of the quarter saw the Pirates down just 46-43. (video)

Garaway has thrived all season in this exact scenario, but the Spartans seemed to have the magical elixir to stay on top. Gebhardt hit Miller with a sensational dish to make it 50-47. Then Ryan Wood scored inside, Sansotta hit two free throws, and then Gebhardt missed an uncontested lay-up before Craycraft buried a three on the other end for a five-point swing. Suddenly it was 57-47. Broc Beachy hit a free throw, and then Sansotta buried a dagger trey that lifted Pleasant to a 60-48 lead with 4:15 left.

Garaway never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

“We did some things well and we did some things not very well. We didn’t shoot the ball well and missed some free throws. They did a nice job moving and staying active.

“Twenty-two made some unbelievable shots,” said Shutt of Sansotta. “I don’t know what we could have done differently. He hit some shots where he lost the ball and was double-clutching in mid-air. There were times when our coaches just sat back in awe, because they weren’t shots anyone should be making.”

Sansotta’s 30-point, 16-rebound effort led the way to an incredible 29-of-57 (51 percent) shooting night for the Spartans. They hit 7-of-13 3-pointers for 54 percent.

But what really killed Garaway was the dozen offensive rebounds it gave up to the Spartans, boards that gave Pleasant 20 second-chance points.

“Well, there you have it,” said Shutt, summing up the 14-point deficit. “They rebounded a lot harder than we did, and it put us behind the eight ball,” said Shutt. “There were times when we simply didn’t go after balls, and I’m not sure why.”

It wasn’t as though Garaway played poorly in some phases of the game. It only committed six turnovers on the night. The pirates’ 64 points wins most games they play.

But under the surface, there were issues. The 12 offensive rebounds given up, the out-of-character 3-of-18 performance from behind the arc. Several key missed free throws that would have really put pressure on Pleasant. Just three assists fro ma team that has piled them up at a record pace this season.

All of those statistics only added to the eerie sense that this game was a real oddity.
And while the numbers would say that this game was an upset, Snively wasn’t about to say his team was the better team, or that it was an upset.

“That’s for other people to decide,” said Snively of the upset theory. “Right now, we are on a high and playing great basketball. That is all we are focused on. We are having fun and playing loose, and we seem to be hitting our stride at the right time.”

Shutt said despite the loss, this was a season he will always remember, as much for the way the team came together as it was all of the achievements.

“From day one, our culture was ‘we do it together,’” said Shutt. “We stayed humble and hungry and nobody cared who got the credit. The reel off 17 (wins) in a row is hard to do at any level. These guys are stinging, they are hurting right now, but we told them how proud we are of them, not only as players, but as people, and I think our community should be proud of that.”

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