By ANDY WOLF
ARCADIA — Van Buren’s boys basketball team is hitting the country roads and taking home a Blanchard Valley Conference title.
The Black Knights secured the outright league crown Friday night with a 45-29 wire-to-wire triumph over Arcadia.
After cutting down the nets, the team went to the locker room to celebrate with a loud rendition of the classic John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
“It was halfway through the season; we noticed we started playing it when we went on our winning streak,” said Van Buren senior Connor Ohlrich while wearing the net as a trophy. “We lost our first BVC game. We just kind of picked what’s going to get us going and we all love sitting there singing that song.
“After a huge win, there’s nothing better than blaring ‘Country Roads.’ It’s a song every one knows how to sing.”
Van Buren’s Michael Kramer tallied a game-high 15 points on five 3-pointers as the only player in double figures for either side.
Arcadia fell to 3-19 overall, 2-9 in the BVC.
Van Buren (14-6, 10-1 BVC), which had finished no worse than fourth in each of the last five seasons, secured its first league title since the 2004-05 season.
“It’s kind of hard to reflect a lot right now so quickly,” second-year Van Buren coach Tyler Niekamp said. “I’m so proud of these kids.
“What an accomplishment for them because we lost four of our five starters from last year — something like 72 percent of our scoring from last year.
“I’m not sure a lot of people would’ve picked us. These kids kept fighting and took one day, one game at a time.”
The harmonious moment in the locker room also symbolized just how far the Black Knights had come over the course of the season and since the end of last year.
Van Buren graduated four seniors from a 15-win squad that was runner up in the BVC last season.
The road to success didn’t start out so smooth, though, as the Black Knights dropped their first league contest 55-39 at Arlington.
But they quickly rebounded and ran the table the rest of the way, winning all but one league game by at least 10 points.
“It’s incredible teammates; it’s incredible coaches,” Ohlrich said. “They get our mindset ready every week.
“Every single BVC game we know exactly our game plan and what to do.
“With my teammates out here it feels like it’s coming easy. We’re playing, we’re moving the ball. There’s no better feeling than putting this net around my neck.”
Arlington’s 38-36 loss to Leipsic on Thursday night meant Van Buren didn’t have to share the championship — so as long as it took care of business against Arcadia on its senior night.
The Black Knights got the start they desired by scoring the first seven points on three assisted buckets out of its motion offense and took a commanding 31-13 lead into halftime.
They shot 6 of 10 overall in the both first and second quarters overall with eight team assists and made 6 of 10 from 3-point range in the half — four from Kramer.
“We knew no matter the result of that (Arlington) game, it wasn’t going to matter for us,” Ohlrich said. “We had the same mindset going into this game whether they won or lost.
“Especially, honestly, the BVC is a gauntlet this year. Everybody is going after each other.”
Ohlrich, one of two senior starters, tallied eight points three rebounds, two steals and two assists.
Brady Rader, the other senior, had five points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Saige Warren also added eight points for the Black Knights.
Cole Coppus scored seven points to lead the Redskins who shot just 27 percent overall (9 of 33).
Arcadia missed its six shots amidst four turnovers before Justen Stoner hit a runner off the glass for their first field goal with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
By then, the Redskins trailed 12-4.
“They’re physical and long and they get you out of the sets that you want to run,” Arcadia coach Clay Baker said of Van Buren. “Our goal was to try to spread them out. If you’re going to guard us outside the perimeter, take yo off the dribble and find open kick outs, slips and we just never really got it going form that standpoint.”
Baker started all four of his seniors Friday night.
“We’ve definitely progressed,” Baker said. “The wins weren’t there; we’ve lost eight games by six points or less.
“They were on the cusp of turning the corner, still trying to tap into that full potentially hopefully right before tournament.
“They never give up on me and I never give up on them. I’m proud of all four of them.”
VAN BUREN (14-6, 10-1 BVC)
Ohlrich 3-1–8, Rader 2-1–5, Warren 3-2–8, Goble 2-0–5, Kramer 5-0–15, McCracken 2-0–4. TOTALS: 17-39 4-9–45.
ARCADIA (3-19, 2-9 BVC)
Boes 2-0–4, Coppus 1-4–7, Palmer 1-2–4, Rader 1-0–3, Stoner 2-0–5, Guillen 1-0–3, Johnson 0-1–1, Cohee 1-0–2. TOTALS: 9-33 7-10–29.
Van Buren 14 17 7 7 — 45
Arcadia 6 7 6 10 — 29
3-Point GOALS: Van Buren 7-17 (Kramer 5, Ohlrich & Goble); Arcadia 4-10 (Coppus, Rader, Stoner & Guillen).
rebounds: Van Buren 27 (Rader 14); Arcadia 27 (Palmer & Johnson 5).
turnovers: Van Buren 13; Arcadia 15.
junior varsity: Van Buren, 54-45.