By Brad Morris
When Circleville coach Cody Carpenter went over the scouting report to prepare for a sectional semifinal game against third-seeded Miami Trace for Wednesday, he was brutally honest with his basketball team.
“I basically put on there that no one expects us to win, because honestly Miami Trace came over here early last month and handled us,” Carpenter said. “I basically told our guys that why don’t we go over there, play like we have nothing to lose and go shock the world?”
The lessons the Tigers learned in a 66-48 setback on Jan. 4 were helpful in the rematch as they flipped the script and stunned the host Panthers 61-46.
“When we played Miami Trace the first time, we didn’t have all of our guys so I felt like that would be an advantage with us being at full strength,” Carpenter said. “I also felt like we weren’t aggressive enough during the first meeting and we played too passive on both ends of the floor. I am not sure if we were a little intimidated with Miami Trace’s size or what.
“We had two really good practices to prepare for this game and we drilled it into the heads of our guys that we were going to be aggressive, we were going to attack and we weren’t going to play with fear. And that’s what they did.”
Miami Trace (18-5) runs its offense through 6-foot-8 senior Andrew Guthrie and Carpenter knew a key to the rematch would be to better contain the first-team Frontier Athletic Conference post player.
“I can’t say enough about Slater Search and the way he played tonight. It was the best game of his career,” Carpenter praised. “We knew Slater had the toughest matchup of the night against Guthrie since he’s about four inches shorter. What we wanted to do was bump Guthrie up top, stop him from cutting across and getting the basketball in the spot where he likes to score from.
“We felt like if we could hold Guthrie in check and make them try to beat us outside that we would have a chance to shock the district.”
The Tigers held Miami Trace to just 16 of 56 (28.6 percent) shooting, including 2 of 14 (14.3 percent) from three-point range, after the Panthers shot 25 of 48 (52.1 percent) in the first meeting.
Search led the defensive effort that checked Guthrie to 11 points, which is six points below his season average.
“Slater rolled his ankle about three or four minutes into the game and he couldn’t put much pressure on it,” Carpenter revealed. “He got it taped up and came back and gave us 28 or 29 minutes out there on the floor.
“I can’t say enough about the toughness and heart that Slater played with and sacrificing his body for the good of the team.”
Search led all scorers with 20 points, shooting 6 of 7 (85.7 percent) from the field and 7 of 8 (87.5 percent) at the free throw line. The Circleville junior also controlled nine rebounds. Briley Cramer followed with 17 points on 8 of 14 (57.1 percent) shooting and also chipped in five rebounds. Ian Warden scored eight points and Nolan West chipped in six points and three assists.
Circleville (12-12) scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 22-15 lead into halftime.
Search made 3 of 4 free throws that was followed by layups courtesy of Drew Thornsley and Cramer.
The Tigers started the third quarter on a 12-2 run to open up a 15-point advantage.
Parker Kidwell fed Nolan West for a layup in transition and Search followed by hitting a hook shot and then taking a feed from West on an inbounds play and draining a three-pointer from the left wing. Thornsley then capped the run by driving virtually unopposed from the left wing in for a layup that put the Tigers ahead 32-17.
West capped the period by taking a pass from Search and drilling a triple from the right wing to beat the buzzer, sending the Tigers into the fourth with a 44-31 lead.
Miami Trace used a three-quarter court pressure to cut its deficit to 46-41, but that’s as close as it could come for the rest of the night.
“We talked to the guys at halftime and told them that Miami Trace would eventually make a run in the second half and that we had to respond with poise and confidence, and they did,” Carpenter said. “We wanted to remain on the attack and create opportunities that we could exploit with our offense.
“But, when something wasn’t there, our guys did a nice job of being patient, making the extra pass and taking advantage of the gaps in Miami Trace’s defense to score.”
Back-to-back layups from Cramer and Search halted the run and gave the Tigers a nine-point advantage.
The Tigers eventually pushed their lead back into double-digits on a Warden steal that ultimately led to Search being fouled and draining a pair of free throws to make it 56-45.
Matt Bradley followed by hitting 3 of 4 free throws and Search added two more free tosses to give the Tigers a 61-45 advantage with 65 seconds remaining.
“We didn’t lose this game, they won it,” Miami Trace coach Ben Ackley said. “Circleville and their staff were very prepared, and they outplayed us in every facet and they outcoached us, too, so they deserve to move on.”
Circleville finished the game 22 of 41 (53.7 percent) from the field to secure its second tournament win of the postseason, a first for the Tigers since 2014.
“This is one of the biggest wins for Circleville basketball in a long time,” Carpenter said. “I’m proud of the way our guys bought into the game plan and the way they competed. It was an outstanding night, and they should be proud of themselves.”
The Tigers are slated to travel to sixth-seeded Gallia Academy (17-6), a 66-37 winner over Alexander last night, on Sunday for a sectional final. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game is being played on Sunday due to Gallia Academy hosting a sectional tournament in wrestling on Saturday.
“As coaches, we’ve already flipped the page and now it’s time to start preparing for the next challenge,” Carpenter said. “Gallia Academy has a big, like Miami Trace, and its guards are a little quicker, but we want to continue and play with the same mentality.
“We want to go down there and attack, be aggressive and play the type of basketball that we now know we can play.”
Division II Southeast District
No. 14 Circleville 61,
No. 3 Miami Trace 46
CIRCLEVILLE — Nolan West 2-1-6, Matt Bradley 0-4-4, Briley Cramer 8-1-17, Parker Kidwell 1-0-2, Drew Thornsley 2-0-4, Ian Warden 3-1-8, Slater Search 6-7-20. Three-point goals — Warden, West and Search. Total — 22-41 14-21 61.
MIAMI TRACE — Shay Salyers 0-3-3, Trey Robinette 1-0-3, Grant Guess 0-2-2, Brady Armstrong 0-2-2, Austin Boedeker 4-4-12, Bryson Sheets 1-0-2, Andrew Guthrie 5-1-11, Bryson Osborne 3-0-7. Three-point goals — Robinette and Osborne. Total — 16-56 12-22 46
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Circleville 11 11 22 17 61
Miami Trace 8 7 16 15 46