NEW MADISON – Youth and inexperience could have been Tri-Village’s downfall this season, but the Patriots overcame their deficiencies with a cohesiveness that now has them in the sweet 16 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
The Tri-Village girls basketball team has four sophomores and a junior in its starting lineup, which Coach Brad Gray admits worried him when the season began. But the Patriots play really well together, he said, which has allowed them to contend with more experienced teams.
“Going into the year we weren’t real sure where we were going to be,” Gray said. “I think this team has definitely surpassed some expectations.
“I think the cohesiveness that this group has had (has been helpful) because even though they’re young they’ve played together for so many years. Our sophomore group, heck, they’ve all been playing basketball since they were probably third graders together and even the group ahead of them, the juniors, have played with them a lot when they were younger. They all are very familiar with each other, feel real comfortable playing together and to be honest with you that’s probably the one thing about this team that sets them apart from other teams I’ve had.”
Along with knowing each other so well, the Patriots also benefit from an attitude throughout the team that individual stats are less important than team success.
“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time so we play together as a team,” Andi Bietry said. “We don’t care who had so many points as long as we’re winning.”
The Patriots have been winning and are back in the OHSAA regional tournament for a second consecutive season. Last year Tri-Village lost to Jackson Center in the regional semifinals.
“The atmosphere was so big and so noisy and loud,” Trisa Porter said. “Last year was really nerve-racking, but this year I think we can actually do something when we get there and be really successful.”
This year Tri-Village matches up with Minster in the regional semifinals, which will be played at 6:15 p.m. Thursday at Vandalia-Butler High School.
“They’re really good, but it doesn’t matter who you see at this stage of the game; they’re going to be really good,” Gray said of Minster, who is making its third consecutive appearance in the regional tournament. “We’ve watched Minster now a couple times in person and of course we’ve seen them on film, and they don’t get any less impressive the more you watch them, I’ll tell you that. The more you watch them the more impressive they get with how good they are, especially on the defensive end of the floor. I think for us it’s probably going to be the toughest half-court defensive man-to-man team that we’ve seen, and they’re relentless. They get after it in the full court as well, but what they do in the half-court man to man is pretty impressive.”
In order to get past Minster, Tri-Village will have to match the Wildcats’ effort on the defensive end.
“I think defense is definitely going to be the key on Thursday,” Maddie Downing said. “I know that their girls are pretty tall and quick and they can move the ball pretty well so I think if we can lock down on defense we’re going to be able to stop them.”
Minster’s height is another challenge for Tri-Village.
“They’re a little bit bigger than us, but I think if we work hard on the defensive end that we can definitely have a chance at beating them,” Lissa Siler said.
In order to handle Minster’s defensive pressure, Tri-Village will need to maintain its composure and not let the Wildcats dictate the pace of play.
“We have to use their aggressiveness against them,” Gray said. “Definitely take care of the basketball. That’s something that if we can’t value the ball the night could be a long night for us, but if we’re able to value the ball and get good shots and not allow their pressure to make us play faster to me that’s the key. We’ve still got to play within our own pace and not allow their pressure to make us play a little bit faster, and I think that’s what Minster has had a lot of success doing this year is they’re making teams play faster than they really want to.”
The Patriots are hoping for a win on Thursday to extend their season at least one more game, but no matter what happens they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished this season and how they’ve already exceeded expectations.
“Being here for the second year in a row, it’s definitely not something to be upset about,” Emma Printz said. “I mean even if it doesn’t go our way it’s still a good feeling.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.