Titans earn sectional title in rubber match over Orrville

The Orrville Red Riders and Triway Titans squared off for the third time this season on Friday, March 2 at The Pit with the 2018 sectional title on the line. The Titans started the game hot, survived an Orrville rally in the third quarter and closed out the game to capture the sectional championship with the 66-52 win.

Longtime foes and Principals Athletic Conference rivals, the number-two-seed Titans (15-8) and number-10-seed Red Riders (7-17) have a storied history of tight games and physical play. This one wasn’t much different: a few over-heated technical fouls here, a bloodied uniform there, all signs of hustle, pride, youthful foolishness and opportunities for growth.

Triway’s offense began the game on fire, and the Titans had a balanced effort across the board throughout the game as they had four players finish in double figures. Senior forward Gabe Walker led the opening charge with six points and a big 3-pointer during the Titans’ back-to-back-to-back barrage of three-bombs from Walker, fellow senior Bo Flinner and sophomore Bryce Biggs. The Riders found themselves down 18-8 at the end of the quarter and looking a bit shell shocked.

However, Orrville did a much better job of defending the long ball in the second quarter, and the Red Rider O started to find some opportunities to get the ball in the hole. Junior Logan Domer began to slice and dice the Titan defense with some nifty dishes to his teammates, but he saved his best moment of the quarter just before the halftime buzzer sounded when he hit a big 3-pointer to narrow the Titans’ lead to 8. Triway led 30-22.

The Red Riders came out of the halftime break shooting the ball like Triway did to start the game: on fire. Ben Underwood knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by a Ben Summers trey on Orrville’s three straight possessions to take a one-point lead.

That is when Walker went to work and put his fellow Titans on his back, thwarting the Riders’ momentum. Not only did he single-handedly attack the heart of the Red Rider defense to the tune of nine points in the third quarter, but he also got physical on defense, which seemed to grab the attention of his teammates, who fed off of his energy. The same can be said for Summers on the Orrville side of the coin. The junior turned an ankle earlier in the game but managed to gut it out and score eight for the period. At the end of the third quarter, it was 48-43 Triway.

The effort needed to generate the offensive charge in the third quarter eventually caught up to Orrville. The Rider bench is young and inexperienced, which made it tough for the starters to get a breather without the game getting out of hand. The game got pretty chippy in the fourth quarter with a couple of technical fouls called before the final buzzer, but cooler heads prevailed, and fortunately no fisticuffs developed.

Eventually Orrville’s tank ran empty, and the Titans prevailed with the 66-52 victory, earning the sectional championship.

With Triway receiving a first-round bye in the sectional round of the tournament, coach Ben Holt was glad his Titans had a chance to work on a few things in practice. “The last four or five weeks of the season we didn’t have what I would consider a real practice because the number of games we were playing didn’t give us much time to work on our inefficiencies from prior games. This was the first week where we were able to have normal practice and take some time to do some drills that we needed, and I thought it showed out there tonight. All around we played with heart and effort, which is what we needed down the stretch to win.”

Holt added, “We contested their shooters and made it hard for guys to see the rim. Ultimately we need to be engaged in every single possession. I always talk about all of these one-on-ones within the five-on-five game of basketball. Sometimes we lose focus, which allows other teams to make a run. For the most part I thought we were engaged every possession tonight. When Orrville was able to make that run (in the third quarter), we were able to stop it and make a run of our own. That was huge for us. I’m proud of this group of guys, who have not won a tournament game in the last few years, who have now obtained one of their goals this year in capturing a sectional championship. We have more goals ahead of us and just need to take it one game at a time. Our next opponent is going to be prepared, and we need to make plays down the stretch that represent who we are.”

Though disappointed with the defeat, Orrville coach Sly Slaughter was pretty happy with the way his team battled this night in addition to the way his current players handled off-court issues the team faced this season. “We just ran out of gas. Our five starters tonight are warriors. I am so proud of those guys. They have endured so much crap this season, but they stuck to it, played as hard as they possibly could and just ran out of gas toward the end. We clawed our way back into the game, but our shots started to fall short. We missed a couple of easy layups, which were transitioned into layups on the other end.”

Slaughter was complimentary of Walker’s effort. “When the game got tight, he took over, and that is what senior leaders are supposed to do. He is a great player, and I’m happy for him but am glad to see him go. He has been tough to deal with over the years.”

Holt praised Walker and his seniors. “I’m glad Gabe Walker is on my team. He is a heck of a player. I enjoy watching him play and coaching him. He makes plays because he knows the game and has skills. On top of everything, he is a great kid. We have our seniors who appreciate each other and enjoy each other’s friendship. For them to win a sectional championship on their home floor of their senior year made tonight special. I am happy for them.”

The Titans were led by Walker’s double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds. Braden Biggs hustled his way to 12 points, five boards, six assists and two uniforms. Biggs’ beloved #24 became bloodied and was forced to be taken out of service and replaced by Colton Snyder’s #10. Jordan Stokes shot a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and collected a double-double of his own with 10 points and 10 caroms.

Summers overcame an ankle sprain to pour in 12 second-half points for a total of 15 to go along with three rebounds and two steals for Orrville. Logan Domer scored 11 points, led the Riders with five assists and added three boards. Underwood had a hard time in the paint against Triway’s swarming big men but managed to score eight points with the help of two 3-pointers and led Orrville in rebounds with six.

Slaughter said, “Ty Dean did such a tremendous job for us tonight off the bench, knocking down a couple of threes and a couple free throws. We can’t ask for much more out of the kid. He was thrown into a six-man rotation in our 20th game of the season. As a sophomore, for having had to go all season without stepping on the floor, then for the past four games all of a sudden being expected to take on a major role for us was huge.”

Orrville’s lone senior Seth Hill wrapped up his Red Rider hoops career. “Seth picked up two quick fouls tonight, which sapped his energy a little bit, but to see where Seth was as a freshman to where he is now is unbelievable. He has probably matured more in that span than any other kid I’ve been around. We will miss him a lot, and I love the way he has matured and how he has played. The bad thing is we lose Seth for next season; the good news is that we have everyone else back. We were short a couple of guys tonight that I think could have helped us out, allowing us to do a few more things strategically, but these guys are going to have to put some more time in the off-season. Basketball players are made in the off-season, not during the season.”

Triway will play on Tuesday, March 6 at Wooster High School in the Div. III Wooster District semifinal against Waynedale (16-7), who knocked off Northwestern. The Titans will look to avenge their 79-73 loss to the Golden Bears from Feb. 20.

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