Just because Strasburg and Garaway have moved to opposite divisions of the Inter-Valley Conference doesn’t mean that a fierce rivalry has gone to the wayside.
Their epic battle in Sugarcreek on Tuesday, Jan. 22 was a none-too-subtle reminder that these two teams are more than ready to continue the ongoing rivalry, which has been an incredible part of each school’s basketball lore over the decades.
In this one it came down to a Mike Neidenthal free throw with 6.2 seconds left to play to decide the winner, this one favoring Strasburg 41-40 in a terrific duel.
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“That was a hard-fought game,” Garaway head coach Terry Rowe said. “Over the past many years Garaway and Strasburg have had some very good basketball games. This is a nonleague game now, yet we both decided to play hard like this.”
It didn’t take Albert Einstein to realize early on that this one was going to teeter back and forth. Mike Neidenthal drove inside for a bucket to open the scoring for Strasburg. Erik Miller answered with a drive of his own. Mitch Neidenthal responded with a runner in the lane to put Strasburg back on top. Corey Troyer split two defenders for a score to tie it again. Mike Neidenthal then produced a pair of scores inside before Miller knocked down a 3-pointer, and a gritty first period ended with the Tigers up 8-7.
This is what great rivalries should look like, and this great rivalry was just getting started. The Tigers would throw the first dangerous punch to start the second period.
Art Plaza and Jared Willoughby both drove for scores to put the Tigers up 12-7, and Mitch Neidenthal capped the short burst with a drive. Garaway’s Austin Fearon finally got the Pirates going with a score inside, and Troyer followed suit, trimming the Pirates deficit to two at 14-12. Mike Neidenthal would get a pair of lay-ups around a Braden Yoder three-ball, and Strasburg would hold a 20-15 advantage at intermission.
While the Pirates were getting in some foul trouble, the big story was the way Tiger D.J. Seward was shutting down high-scoring Ethan Roden in the paint. Roden would be hounded by Seward and doubled down on much of the night, and the Pirates’ center would get off just three shots in a scoreless game.
“They are a great, quality team that is ranked in the state of Ohio,” Hall said. “They are 12-1 for a reason, and when you play them, you have to pick your poison,” Strasburg head coach Adam Hall said. “Do you want to take away one of the premier post men in the league in Ethan Roden, who, when he gets the ball, is going to score? Are you going to take away Erik Miller, one of the premier shooters in our area? Are you going to take away two of the best penetrators in the league in Troyer and Fearon? It’s tough to defend them.”
Strasburg chose to try to stop Roden. In doing so they unleashed Seward on him, and the Tigers big man responded with the game of his career.
“Not that our kids haven’t bought into the scouting report before, but they bought into the scouting report and really understood the personnel they were guarding, and I am really proud of our kids and the effort they gave and especially D.J. for what was an incredible effort.”
Mitch Neidenthal would spark a third-quarter run for Strasburg with six quick points that pushed the Tigers’ lead to 27-19, but when he crushed home a 3-pointer, Strasburg held its largest lead of the game at 30-19.
“We got down by around 10, and it didn’t look good for us,” Rowe said. “They pulled the ball back a little, but we kept playing hard and created some turnovers and made some shots, and all of a sudden we are even.”
Like all great rivalries, this one was far from over. The Pirates response was quick and decisive as Miller hit a drive, Troyer nailed a triple and Miller then hammered home a 3-pointer to get the Pirates back to within 32-27. A Seward lay-in ended the quarter with Strasburg up 34-28, and fans knew something big was coming from the Pirates.
Mike Neidenthal would start the fourth quarter with a driving hoop, but the Pirates would get two scores inside from Yoder, and after a Tigers free throw, Miller dropped in another trey. Suddenly it was 37-35 Tigers.
As the clock got to 2:30, the Pirates got a stop and turned it into a Fearon drive for two that knotted things up at 37.
It was panic time for the Tigers with a raucous home Pirates crowd in a frenzy. However, the only one panicking, according Hall, was the coaching staff.
“Kids are resilient, coaches not so much,” Hall said with a laugh. “The coaches were freaking out. I have a million things running through my mind, and Mike Neidenthal comes over during the time-out as calm as can be and says, ‘We’re fine; we’re good.’ Mike and Mitch both stepped up like senior leaders should do in big games and made plays for us tonight.”
Back to the frenzy at hand, a Mike Neidenthal and-one gave the Tigers a momentary three-point lead, but Troyer got it right back with one of his own, and the game was again tied at 40. With time winding down, Mike Neidenthal set flight for the hoop and drew a foul with 6.2 seconds to play, setting the stage for a fantastic finish. With the Pirates Lair at unbelievable decibels, Neidenthal misfired on the first free throw. Following a time-out, he calmly went back to the line, and the 80-percent free throw shooter made good on his second to give the Tigers the lead.
“I just wanted to keep it interesting,” Mike Neidenthal said jokingly of the miss that came before the make to give the Tigers the victory. “After I missed the first one, I knew I had to make the second one, and that was the loudest gym I have ever played in. I couldn’t hardly think, but I was confident that I was going to make it. We felt that if we had a lead, we could hopefully get them to foul us, and it worked out.”
Another time-out ensued, and the Pirates’ final chance came on the shoulders of Troyer, who grabbed the inbounds pass, sped down the court and launched a 3-pointer. His direction was true, but he was just a tad long, and the ball caromed off of the back iron. The Tigers had prevailed.
“That was a disappointing loss,” Rowe said. “But we have to continue to believe in each other and get better from this.”
As for the way the game played out, the score extremely low-scoring for the high-octane Pirates, Rowe said knowing how disciplined and methodical the Tigers are, there was nothing new about the way the game took shape.
“Nothing really surprised us,” Rowe said. “We missed some open shots, and we got in foul trouble, but we had some different guys who, while they didn’t score, did some nice things to keep us in the ball game. In the fourth quarter we started making some shots, but in the end we kind of ran out of time tonight. I thought both teams made some big plays when they needed them, and unfortunately for us, the game wasn’t a few minutes longer tonight.”
“They are a great, quality team that is ranked in the state of Ohio,” Hall said. “They are 12-1 (now 12-2) for a reason, and I am super-proud of our kids for coming in here and performing like they did.”
Strasburg was led in scoring by their superb senior twins, Mike Neidenthal leading the way with 18 while Mitch Neidenthal scored 13. Seward added four, and almost as surprising as Roden scoring two was the Pirates limiting Strasburg big-man Jacob Farthing to just two points. Miller ended the night with 14 points to lead the Pirates while Troyer added 12 and Fearon and Yoder each tallied seven apiece.
Additional game information provided by Ethan Miller