[This is my column in The Commercial Review from Thursday.]
They’ve won big, and they’ve won by the skin of their teeth.
Some games have been all but decided at halftime. Other times, senior Elijah Kahlig has had to take matters into his own hands and hit game-winning shots as time expired.
And their success on the court is all because they’re having fun.
“I can’t recall us having too many bad practices,” said Fort Recovery boys basketball coach Brian Patch, whose team has rattled off seven straight wins — including an upset of then-Division III No. 4 Versailles — since falling to Franklin Monroe Dec. 20.
“It’s fun to be around the kids, they still go hard and they have chemistry together,” said Patch, who also mentioned the team still finds a way to have fun at this point in the season when practices tend to get monotonous. “Maybe we’ve overachieved a little this year by some standards, but I think that’s what makes it fun.”
The Indians (11-2) sit atop the Midwest Athletic Conference standings with a perfect 5-0 record. They’re hoping to get the fifth conference championship in school history. Marion Local (11-2, 4-0 MAC), which beat the Tribe in the sectional tournament last season and is the only other undefeated team in the conference, sits behind the Indians in the MAC standings.
The two teams will meet Feb. 21 in Maria Stein for the Flyers’ senior night. Although he hopes the game will have conference championship implications, Patch said he’s not going to look too far ahead, as there are eight games between now and the regular season finale.
“You can’t overlook any MAC team, because if you do you’re going to get beat,” Patch said. “We’ll continue to take each game as it comes and take it one at a time.”
This season, Fort Recovery has had to rely heavily on Kahlig, who is the only player to average double-digit points. His 22.9 points per game are nearly triple that of the No. 2 scorer, Alex Kaiser (8.2 PPG). But to complement the University of Findlay commit, the Indians are getting quality minutes from a trio of sophomores, Darien Sheffer, Brandon Schoen and Kyle Schroer.
Schroer is the only starter of the three, and the other two come off the bench to provide quickness and create chaos on the defensive side of the ball.
“(Delphos) Jefferson is one that comes to mind with (Sheffer and Schroer) them stepping in the first week of the season and hitting some big threes,” Patch said. “They’re putting their nose in on defense and they again provide that spark that we need on defense.”
Friday’s game at Coldwater was a prime example of Sheffer’s grittiness.
After hitting a free throw to complete a three-point play, Sheffer caught the Cavalier offense slacking and stole the inbound pass. He came up with another steal a few minutes later for a fast break and an easy layup.
“I just come in, scrap and get loose balls,” Sheffer said. “I do what coach asks me … bring in some energy.”
The high energy is what makes watching the Indians exciting.
Three of the first four wins for Fort Recovery were decided by 18 points or more, with the Indians scoring 87 points in back-to-back games while holding Ansonia and Waynesfield-Goshen to 92 points combined.
Games during the last two weeks, however, were far from blowouts. But that’s what happens when MAC play begins. It’s anyone’s ball game, and teams will fight until the end.
Again, the strong play on both sides of the ball were never more prevalent than during Fort Recovery’s last three games, when the Indians were trailing in the second half against conference opponents.
Kahlig hit two game-winners in the same week — the first Jan. 14 against St. John’s and the second three days later against Versailles — and the Indians erased an eight-point third-quarter deficit Friday at Coldwater.
The third quarter has been the most efficient for Fort Recovery, which has scored 210 points in the frame while allowing just 135. That 75-point differential has allowed the Indians to put teams away or rally from first-half deficits.
“The adjustments the coaches make at halftime, it really allows us to go out there and play our game,” senior Ben Dilworth said.
There’s no doubt teams have fun when they are successful. Just watching the Indians in practice shows how much they enjoy being around one another and the camaraderie they have.
“It’s been fun,” Dilworth said of the success. “I just hope to keep it up.”
If the Indians keep on playing the way they have over the last month, there is no question the fun will continue.