By DAVE HANNEMAN
The way it looks, Lima Senior and Ottawa-Glandorf are getting healthy just in time to try to put some hurt on Findlay High.
Findlay battles Lima Senior and Ottawa-Glandorf, two teams that have had to deal with some key injuries this season, in a pair of “down-the-road” rivalry games trademarked as much for their regional closeness as their competitive history.
On Friday, Findlay (7-2, 2-2 TRAC) heads south to face the Spartans (6-5, 2-3 TRAC) in the I-75 rivalry between the Three Rivers Athletic Conference opponents. On Saturday, unbeaten and No. 4-ranked O-G (10-0, Division III) visits Findlay for the renewal of the Route 224 rivalry.
“Geographically, these are our two closest opponents,” said Findlay High coach Jim Rucki. “These games mean a lot to us …. and probably to them, too.”
Findlay enters Friday’s game having won two straight and six of its last seven. Solid 3-point shooting, especially from guards Ryan Roth, Ryan Nunn and Jacob Logsdon, has been pivotal. Roth and Nunn are averaging around 15 points a game and Logsdon around 10. Six-foot-five senior Isaac Schumm and 6-3 forwards Adam Gutting and Ben Howard handle the post and front line positions for the Trojans, with junior guards Andrew McCormick and Chayse Stillings and 6-2 freshman A.J. Adams giving Rucki good depth on his bench.
Rucki said getting a read on Lima Senior has been nearly impossible because injuries have forced the Spartans to constantly shuffle and re-shuffle their lineup.
“They’re tough to figure out personnel-wise because they’ve had so many guys miss games,” Rucki said. “It’s hard to tell who their best six or seven guys are. I don’t know if they’ve ever had all of them out there at the same time.”
Lima Senior won four of its first five games, reportedly when Jainaz Cameron was healthy and in the lineup. The Spartans then lost four of five, arguably to some very good teams, when Cameron was dealing with an injury.
“He doesn’t score a whole lot yet,” Rucki said of Cameron, a talented 6-foot-5 freshman. “But he looks like a man. He’s physically mature, an imposing kid who blocks shots and rebounds.”
Jaleel Long also missed time with an injury and senior point guard B.J. Miller was held out of last week’s 55-54 loss to Elida, one of three games the Spartans have lost by a basket or less.
Keaton Upshaw, who had been in the Lima Senior lineup in the past, has left the program to concentrate on his future in football. The 6-7, 220-pound senior signed a national letter of intent in December to play tight end for Kentucky.
Filling the spot in the middle this season has been 6-8 senior Jatsiel Colon. A year ago, Colon was one of two Puerto Rican transfer students who were at first deemed ineligible to play for Lima Senior by the OHSAA. The other appealed the decision and was allowed to compete in regular-season — but not tournament — games. Colon did not appeal the decision, sat out his junior year, and returned this season with his eligibility intact.
Whether full-strength or not, Lima Senior prefers a get-after-it-and-go style built around aggressive, pressing defense and a fast-breaking offense.
Ottawa-Glandorf will bring a similar style to Findlay High on Saturday. One of Ohio’s top mid-size programs with a Division II state championship in 2004 and Division III titles in 2008 and 2013, the Titans graduated just one player from last year’s 21-3 team. But they were also missing another key component of their success with Jay Kaufman, a second-team all-Ohio standout in both football and basketball, sidelined by a knee injury he suffered last April.
O-G barely missed a beat when the season started, averaging 87.7 points a game in early wins over Bryan (70-60), Liberty Center (95-62) and Liberty-Benton (98-37).
Kaufman returned to the lineup in mid-December. The 6-5 senior had just seven points in O-G’s 67-39 win over Bowling Green, but has averaged 18.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game since then.
“Everybody tells me he plays like he’s hungry,” Rucki said of Kaufman’s contributions since he returned.
Junior point guard Owen Hiegel is averaging 16.1 points a game, 6-6 post Jake Dible 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and 6-4 junior Ethan White 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“They’re big, they’re strong and they have a lot of kids who can score,” Rucki said.
Whether it’s Lima Senior’s quickness and athleticism or O-G’s size and strength, Rucki feels Findlay’s approach will have to be the same.
“Against the teams we play, taking care of the ball is usually our No. 1 priority,” he said. “We feel pretty good about playing defense five on five. But when we turn it over and they end up with a four on three, or four on two, or a three on one, that’s when we get in trouble.
“We’re going to be tested by two very good teams this weekend, so we have to take care of the ball. That’s where everything starts.”
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