By MICHAEL BURWELL
COLUMBUS — Dave Kleman, Bridget Landin and C.J. Kemper were in a much better mood entering the Value City Arena media room on Thursday compared to last year.
“I really liked the game. I like sitting here with the win instead of (a loss),” Kleman, Ottoville’s girls basketball coach, said after the Big Green’s 44-25 Division IV state semifinal win over Buckeye Central. “C.J. walked in and said ‘Whoa, this is going to be a lot better than last year’ when we were here for the loss instead of a win.”
From heartbreak a year ago to all smiles on Thursday, it was a huge contrast in emotions for Ottoville (27-2) compared to last season’s Division IV state semifinal loss to Berlin Hiland.
The Big Green battled the No. 1-ranked Hawks down to the final seconds, but Kennedy Schlabach drained a deep corner 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Berlin Hiland a 44-41 win.
The Hawks went on to win a state title.
“It’s a lot better than last year,” Landin said with a laugh. “That was rough.”
The Big Green had a 32-22 lead late in the third and a 32-27 lead after three quarters of the Berlin Hiland game.
On Thursday, Landin, Kemper and their teammates made sure a late collapse wouldn’t happen. Landin, a 6-foot senior and two-time first team all-Ohioan, totaled 21 points and 11 rebounds (six offensive) while Kemper, a 5-10 senior, added six points, six boards (five offensive) and three assists.
That picture of Berlin Hiland celebrating last year’s win that’s been hanging in Ottoville’s locker room all season?
The Big Green brought it to Columbus this week.
“I think last year, it was just awesome getting down here. But this year, we feel like we have work to do and we’re not done yet,” Kemper said. “In our hotel room, we have the picture of Berlin Hiland for motivation. We want it really bad.”
Not only did Ottoville feel much better mentally this season, the Big Green are making sure to not have what physically happened to them last year.
“I don’t know if you guys knew it, after that (Berlin Hiland) game, on Friday, half the team got deathly ill,” Kleman said. “They were throwing up and everything else, and it wasn’t because we lost the game; we had some kind of illness. If we’d have had to play in the finals, we’d have been playing with maybe eight kids.
“We sent probably three or four of our starters home, they were so sick. So we’re avoiding the places we ate at last year.”
Ottoville, which reached its second state championship in school history in its seventh state appearance, will face a familiar foe for the title. Minster (25-3), which edged Ottoville 55-54 on Jan. 20, topped Waterford 46-31 in Thursday’s second Division IV state semifinal.
“I think it’s a good thing. It’s a great thing, actually,” Kleman said. “At my age, when you were younger, you just want it so bad and you’re just squeezing so tight and you want it ” I had somebody say, well, how disappointed will you be if you don’t win it this year? I said, ‘I’m not going to be disappointed.’
“Yeah, I would love personally to get a state championship. But as an older coach, you have more of those feelings for your kids and you want it for your kids more than you want it for yourself.”
Send an E-mail to Mike Burwell
By MICHAEL BURWELL