By DAVE HANNEMAN
BOWLING GREEN — Even one forgettable half of basketball cannot diminish an unforgettable season by the Mohawk Warriors.
Mohawk trailed Pandora-Gilboa just 17-14 at the half of Tuesday’s Division IV regional semifinal at Bowling Green. Sixteen minutes later, the Warriors were on the short end of a 50-31 score.
P-G, 25-1 and making some history of its own after earning its first-ever regional victory, advances to Friday’s regional final. At stake will be a bid to the 2018 Division IV state semifinals at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Mohawk (19-7) headed home, but not before rewriting the school record books. Known more for its success in football and wrestling, Mohawk won a school-record 19 games and became the school’s first-ever boys basketball team to reach the regional tournament.
“I remember when was a young kid,” said Paul Dunn, a Mohawk graduate in his second season as the Warriors’ head coach.
“One of our assistant varsity coaches was our junior high coach, and he told us we can make this a basketball school. That was 17, 18 years ago. I didn’t realize then I’d one day be the head coach, but that was my goal. I wanted to make this a basketball school because we’ve got the athletes and we have kids who love the game. It’s just trying to get them believing that they can do that.”
From going 10-15 last season to this year’s 19-7 mark is a good start. Especially for a program that had just four seniors on the roster, started four juniors in Tuesday’s regional semifinal, and brought another junior and a freshman in among its first four subs.
“I told them this has to be something that drives you to want to come back and play on a stage like this,” Dunn said. ”
“I told them they have pioneered a path that has never been done at Mohawk. Hopefully this inspires a lot of kids who are back home in Sycamore, Ohio to follow in these guys’ footsteps.”
THEN AND NOW: This isn’t the first Pandora-Gilboa team Joe Braidic has taken to the regional tournament. But the members of this team hadn’t been born yet the last time the Rockets reached the Sweet 16.
In 1999, Braidic’s first year as head coach, P-G had a break-even regular season, then got hot in the tournament and rattled off four straight wins to reach the regional semifinals where they fell to Edgerton. Tuesday’s win over Mohawk was P-G’s first-ever regional basketball win.
Times have changed. So has Braidic.
“I remember when I was here the last time, a guy told me to soak it in because you never know when you’ll be back,” said Braidic, who is in the first year of his third stint as P-G’s head coach.
“It’s tough for a small school, because you play with the talent that comes up through your system. Sometimes you have it; sometimes you don’t.
“I’m somewhat nervous. I’m more relaxed than last time and I’m enjoying it while I’m here. But I want to see them (the players) do well. Winning and losing will take care of itself. I told the guys to just go out there, do the best you can and see what happens because this is why we play and this is why we coach.”
BLOCKING IT OUT: Pandora-Gilboa senior forward Drew Johnson, named player of the year by the Putnam County League, Blanchard Valley Conference and District 8 Division IV coaches, scored nine points and had seven rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Mohawk. Both numbers were below his season averages. But Johnson played an intimidating inside game, blocking six shots to spearhead a defensive effort that limited Mohawk to almost half of its 56.4 offensive average.
“We’re not going to shy away from what we do best and that’s play outstanding defense,” Johnson said.
Johnson admitted the newness of the regional tournament took some getting used to.
“Last year, we got knocked out in the first round (of the tournament), so the district, the regional, this is all new to us,” Johnson said.
“The big stage, the big lights, people from all over coming to watch you play … We were all jitters the first half, like any other team would be at this stage of the game. We had to get past that. We came out in the second half cool, calm and collected and played our game.”
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By DAVE HANNEMAN