By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High’s boys basketball team will be facing two opponents with a collective blue and gold chip on their shoulders this week.
But the Trojans — in a good way — have no one to blame but themselves.
Almost a year ago to the day, Findlay achieved one of the more memorable weekend sweeps in school history. On Friday, January 11, 2019, Findlay beat a Lima Senior team, 81-63, that was 5-0 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, 9-1 overall and ranked No. 10 in the Division I state poll.
A day later, the Trojans traveled to Robert J. Hermiller Gymnasium and chalked up a 92-67 win over an Ottawa-Glandorf team that was 9-1 and ranked No. 6 in Division III.
Fast forward 364 days and it’s deja vu all over again.
Findlay is at Lima Senior on Friday and hosts O-G on Saturday with the circumstances almost identical to what they were a year ago. This time, Lima Senior is 5-0 in the TRAC, 8-1 overall and ranked No. 8 in Division I. O-G is 10-0 and ranked No. 4 in Division III.
“They are two very, very good teams,” said FHS coach Jim Rucki.
“Both teams can get it and go on you. They try to create offense from their defense. They make you pay for your mistakes so you have to take care of the ball and do all the little things well.”
Last year’s loss to Findlay, in part, cost Lima Senior an outright TRAC championship. The Spartans beat Toledo Whitmer twice, but ended up 12-2 in the league and sharing the title with the Panthers.
With most of last year’s lineup back from a team that went 22-5 and reached the Division I regional finals, including four all-TRAC selections, Lima Senior was a heavy preseason favorite in a vote of TRAC coaches. Headlining that group is 6-foot-2 senior guard Josiah Fulcher, last year’s TRAC co-Player of the Year who will play his college ball at Bowling Green State University. Jamir Simpson, a 6-5 senior who was first-team all-TRAC, is also back, along with 6-4 senior Jadakis Mack and 5-4 sophomore point guard Khalil Luster, both honorable mention all-league selections.
Lima Senior fell 82-70 to No. 17-ranked Canton McKinley in a holiday tournament game held at Lima Senior. But the Spartans have been as offensively explosive as expected. Lima Senior first topped the century mark in a 103-62 win over Oregon Clay and hit triple digits twice last week in wins over Fremont Ross (100-70) and Elida (100-52). Through nine games, the Spartans are averaging 82.1 points a game.
Scoring in transition off the turnovers created by a pressing, trapping defense has been a key for Lima Senior, and a bane for its opponents.
“They’re good at running at you, trapping, then anticipating where that next pass is going and going to get it. They feed on your mistakes; that’s what pressing teams do,” Rucki said.
Ottawa-Glandorf, which hosts Lima Senior in a Jan. 18 matchup, does much the same with its trapping, aggressive defense. One difference, though, is that the Titans have a more dominant post game with 6-7 senior Ben Westrick and 6-7 junior Owen Nichols both averaging close to a double-double. Complementing that inside game is the 3-point shooting of Brennan Blevins, Parker Schomaeker, Jarrod Beach, Hayden Dean and Caleb Kuhlman.
Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but against Lima Senior and Ottawa-Glandorf it will be even more valuable.
“We have to be able to flash to the ball when guys are in trouble, and be judicious with our passing and in making decisions,” Rucki said.
“We don’t want to have live-ball turnovers, what we call ‘pick-sixes.’ You’re going to make mistakes. You just can’t compound those mistakes against these teams.”
Findlay (7-2, 4-2 TRAC) was averaging 14 turnovers a game early in the season. But the Trojans, who enter the weekend on a five-game winning streak, have dropped that average to 11.2 over the last six games.
“I’m confident we’ve gotten better the last few weeks,” Rucki said.
“In the long run, seeing this kind of pressure will be good for us. We’re going there to win, but no matter what the results are this weekend as long as we play hard, if we can play well from the start and are really focused and mentally sharp, it will make us a better team down the road.”
A.J. Adams continues to lead Findlay in points (14.8 ppg), rebounds (72), assists (35) and blocked shots (16). Sophomore guard Max Roth averages 14.1 points and 3.3 assists and leads the Trojans in steals (19). Sophomore Brock Makrancy averages 9.7 points a game, senior point guard Isaiah Moore 8.0 points and 3.1 assists, and junior wing Chris Strzempka 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Justin Roth (2.7 ppg), Sam Weihrauch (3.6 ppg), Luke Montgomery (2.6 ppg) and Terrion Ross (1 ppg) have been Findlay’s top players off the bench.
Findlay High’s boys won’t be the only FHS team facing a state-ranked power this week. In girls basketball action, the Trojans travel up I-75 today to take on a Toledo Notre Dame team that is 8-2 overall, 5-0 in the TRAC and tied for the No. 2 spot in the Division I girls poll. The Eagles have won three straight TRAC titles and are riding a 47-game league winning streak.
Junior post Kaylee Brodine (14.2 ppg, 12.6 rpg) continues to average a double-double for the Trojans, who have won four of their last six games to improve to 6-5 overall, 3-2 in the TRAC. Sophomore post Bri Nichols averages 8.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and leads the team in steals (2.4 spg).
Senior guard Jocellen Puchta is averaging 7.7 points a game, freshman guard Reegan Hayward 5.1, senior guard Celia Johnson 3.5 and sophomore wing Katie Prusnek 3.3.
Findlay High’s hockey team will be renewing one of its longest and strongest rivalries on Friday when the Trojans host Bowling Green in a Northwest Hockey Conference Red Division game at The Cube.
Findlay is 8-10-2 overall and 2-3 in the Red Division standings. Bowling Green, which had to suspend its varsity program due to low numbers last season, is 5-15-1 overall, 0-4 in the league.
Findlay is coming off a 6-1 win over Springboro. Senior forward Harrison Hall had three goals in that game, including one that made the ESPN highlights. Hall’s third goal of the game, where he picked the puck up on his stick and tucked it into the goal from behind the net, was judged as one of ESPN’s plays of the day on Monday.
Findlay’s High’s wrestling team will be in dual meets at Springfield today and at Tiffin Columbian on Friday. Findlay’s boys and girls swim teams have the weekend off, but the Trojans’ gymnastics team opens its season Friday with Sylvania Northview and Toledo Whitmer in a quadrangular meet at Patrick Henry.