CASSTOWN – It was a matchup of the last two undefeated teams in the Cross County Conference.
Miami East came in as the No. 3 ranked team in Division III and Tri-Village entered as the No. 4 ranked team in Division IV in the state of Ohio.
The game would turn into a defensive stalemate with Miami East playing its 1-2-2 zone and Tri-Village going at it with aggressive man-to-man defense.
The Patriots jumped out on top 5-0 on a triple and a layup from Tyler VanWinkle to put TV in control.
Tri-Village’s defensive pressure held the Vikings scoreless for nearly five minutes before Michael Werling broke the ice with a free throw at the 3:16 mark to get Miami East dancing.
“Michael Werling had an impressive, quiet game for us. A lot of what Michael does doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” Miami East boys basketball coach Allen Mack said.
The Patriots responded with Brett Boyter slashing in the lane for two to go up 7-1. With the chance to add to its lead Tri-Village missed a couple of open layups, and that’s when things started to change.
Damien Mackesy helped the Viking finish the second quarter strong with a basket at the rim and he followed that up with a steal off the press with the finish in traffic to end the quarter trailing 7-5.
Tri-Village found it difficult to get the ball inside the paint, allowing East to push out its zone and making it even harder for the Patriots to knock down perimeter shots, scoring just three points in the frame.
“Logan West, despite not scoring, was making them have contested shots around the rim – making them be a little more perimeter oriented,” Mack said.
Miami East grabbed the lead for the first time in the game when Kley Karadak came in off the bench and dropped a triple at the 7:30 mark.
“Kley Karadak recognizes situations. They were sagging off our other post, trying to help down, and he comes in and hits a huge three for us,” Mack said.
The defensive battle continued to play out with neither team scoring for the next five minutes until Tri-Village’s Gavin Richards connected on one charity toss to tie the game 8-8 at the 2:56 mark.
With the limited scoring every basket was big, and Ryan Haney’s bucket in the open floor got East the lead 10-8.
VanWinkle responded with a short baseline jumper … but Mackesy gave the Viking the lead at the half 12-10 with a shot on the block.
The pace would get no quicker in the third quarter as the defenses continued to play hard.
“I thought we defended well – especially first-shot defense,” Tri-Village coach Josh Sagester said.
The Patriots held East to just six points in the third quarter but could only muster five points of their own and trailed 18-15 going into the final stanza.
With the game being being such a low-scoring affair any team who could put together a small run was going to have the advantage.
Ryan Haney scored to start the fourth then Mackesy added a couple of free throws, and East was starting to get separation, up 22-15.
The Patriots finally got scoring from Richards off the baseline and a triple from VanWinkle to close the gap to 24-20 … but the Patriots were never really able to make a run that would break the Vikings.
“The game was so low scoring that there weren’t those long runs by either team. When you can get an edge, it’s going to come down to possession basketball, and it was good for us to not turn the ball over,” Mack said.
Mackesy came up big for Miami East. Every time the Patriots scored they fouled him, and he made them pay by going 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the final frame to secure the win 36-29.
“Our free throw percentage was not good for the game, but I think we started one for eight as a team early on,” Mack said. “But for Damien to have most of those free throws in the fourth quarter, he was 10 for 10 by himself. It speaks volumes.”
Mackesy ended the night with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs.
“Damien is kind of quiet,” Mack continued. “He lets his play speak for itself. Couldn’t be more please with how he stepped up tonight. He didn’t try to do to much for us really. If anything, we maybe needed him to be a little more aggressive at the start to get some inside finishes, which is what you saw out of him in the second half.”
Sagester thought his team let opportunities get away.
“We had plenty of opportunities and the right guys taking shots, and unfortunately if those guys aren’t good enough to make them we are going to struggle, and tonight they weren’t. I thought we did a nice job of executing the game plan. Our goal was to give ourselves a chance at the end, and we had plenty of opportunities and weren’t able to capitalize,” a dejected Sagester said.
Those missed opportunities benefited Miami East as the Vikings were able to build a small cushion in the fourth quarter when the clock became a factor.
“We fouled late, and I don’t know how many field goals they had, but they hit several free throws to give them 36 points. You know, if you hold a team like this to 36 and you only score 29, that’s tough. Your big players have to make plays on big nights, and unfortunately tonight our guys didn’t,” Sagester concluded.
For Mack, he felt his team’s defense was the difference.
“This was really a team win and a defensive effort that our kids can be proud of. We have some good defensive teams over the years, and this team ranks right up there,” Mack said.
And beating a team like Tri-Village made it so much more rewarding.
“I’m really pleased because Tri-Village has been dominant in our league the past three years,” Mack said. “Our seniors had never beaten them, and tonight we got a big win. It means even more when you get it against the defending state champions.”
In the process, it put Miami East in the driver’s seat for the conference championship with just over two weeks left in the regular season.
Tri-Village’s junior varsity team played a strong second half to earn a 44-37 win. Dillon McCullough led the way with 17 and Jared Buckley 13 in the win.
Tri-Village will be back in action on Friday when the Patriots host Covington for Homecoming.
Score by quarters:
Tri-Village…..07…03…05…14 – 29
Miami East…05…07…06…18 – 36
Tri-Village (14-3, 8-1)
Tyler VanWinkle 13, Gavin Richards 11, Brett Boyter 2, Trace Couch 3
Totals 3-7-4/10 – 29
Miami East (15-1, 8-0)
Ryan Haney 8, Damien Mackesy 20, Kley Karadak 3, Michael Werling 5
Totals 1-10-13/36 – 36
TV – 3 (VanWinkle 2, Richards 1)
ME – 1 (Karadak)