VANDALIA – The Arcanum Trojans and National Trail Blazers kicked off a triple-header of Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III sectional boys basketball action Saturday at Vandalia-Butler High School.
The two teams met early in December in a Cross County Conference game that was won by the Blazers 65-53. Despite drastic offensive swings in the game, National Trail used its rebounding advantage and fourth quarter free throw shooting to hold off Arcanum 56-47.
The game started slowly for both teams. Travis Hunt connected on two free throws with 2:34 left in the first quarter to incite a Blazer 11-0 run that gave Trail a 19-8 edge after eight minutes.
The Blazers stayed on the attack by adding 9 more points to the streak before the Trojans got three Carter Gray foul shots with 3:43 before halftime. With the score now 28-11 and things looking bleak for Arcanum, the Trojans suddenly struck back with a 15-2 run before intermission. This not only gave the Trojans some confidence but got them back in the game at 30-23.
The third period saw both teams jockeying back and forth. National Trail stretched the advantage to as much as 9, but long range accuracy of the Trojans from behind the arc by Gray and Wills Troutwine enabled them to keep close.
Arcanum had chances to tie the score at 37 but just could not get the ball in the net. The Trojans won the third quarter 14-10 but still trailed 40-34 after three periods.
“We really struggled getting key stops,” Trojan coach Marcus Bixler said. “We’d make a run offensively and get some nice looks and really struggle to rebound the basketball.
“When you get to the tournament … if you go into the fourth quarter down, teams take the air out of the basketball,” Bixler said about fourth quarter tournament basketball. “They slow things way down and make it difficult to come back without fouling.”
Out of the Blazer 16 points in the final period 11 of them came from the free throw line. They shot 11-for-16 for the quarter. Arcanum closed to within 42-38, but National Trail hit a stretch of 8-of-9 from the charity stripe to firmly hold the lead to the end.
“Give Trail credit,” Coach Bixler said. “They knocked down a lot of free throws and got the ball in the right people’s hands.”
Regarding his seven seniors, Bixler added, “It’s a frustrating feeling … to send seven seniors out without the tournament victory we hoped to get.”
The trio of Trojan leading scorers were all underclassmen. Sophomore Wade Meeks led the way with 17 points and freshman Carter Gray had 12. Sophomore Evan Atchley contributed 10.
Though the future looks bright, but Coach Bixler sees much work ahead.
“Need to get stronger,” he said. “That was very evident tonight. They just pushed us around too much. Continue to build skill sets.”