By NATHAN INNIGER
There is special about high school tournament basketball.
Whether it’s the fact that every school has a chance to win a state championship, whether it’s the communities offering support for their hometown team, or if it’s just the two-hour release from cold, wintery weather conditions outside, there is truly something special about tournament basketball in Northwest Ohio.
Every once in a while, and especially during tournament play, there are those rare games that bring out the best in high school athletics and the sport in particular.
The sectional final Saturday at Findlay between Arlington and Riverdale was one of those games.
Despite the fact that the Red Devils were seeded and had defeated the Falcons 46-37 earlier in the regular season, there was the thought that the rematch could be a dandy.
But few could have expected a two-overtime thriller that resulted in a 69-65 Riverdale victory.
“It was back-and-forth, it was a battle. I give Arlington tons of credit because they wanted it just as badly. They played hard,” Riverdale head coach Maryann Holderman said after the game. “It was a great basketball game.”
A quick look on paper would suggest that the two teams were vastly different. Arlington, with six seniors, would have appeared to be much more battle-tested than Riverdale, which has no seniors on its roster.
In reality, the two teams were eerily similar. Both guard-oriented clubs, the Red Devils only had two players that gained much varsity experience on last year’s Division IV state championship squad. The Falcons returned only two players from a 10-13 team.
“With what we had back from last year, and we still had that bull’s eye on us all year, I think we over achieved for most of the season,” Arlington head coach Seth Newlove said after the game. “To get sixteen wins, I wish we had got seventeen and we’re still playing, but I really think my girls had a great season for most of them being first-year varsity players.”
Riverdale’s young squad peaked toward the end of the regular season and has won six of its last seven games heading into Thursday’s district semifinal game with Leipsic at 8 p.m. at Liberty-Benton.
“Of this group, only two of them really played on last year’s team consistently, so this is all new for them,” Holderman said. “All this week, we talked about the journey we have made throughout this season, how we worked to get to this point.”
Maybe another special aspect of tournament basketball is that any team can beat another on any given night no matter how improbable it may seem.
The Courier’s coverage area had 14 seeded teams going into the tournament. Five of them did not make it out of the sectional.
“When you start the tournament, everyone is 0-0 so it doesn’t matter that they had a better record than us,” Holderman said. “We are all 0-0 and it is tournament time and anything can happen for the team that wants it the most and is willing to work for it.”
Maybe the tournament is special because sometimes lesser-known players rise to the occasion.
Riverdale’s leading scorer, junior Jordyn Wright, had a team-high 20 points in the game. But in the all-important second overtime period, five teammates combined to score 12 of the Falcons’14 points.
“If (the opponent) takes me out of the game, my teammates just pick it back up and they get everything going and they stepped up big,” Wright said.
“They were taking Jordyn out of the picture and Bre Parish, Tiffany Wright, Taylor Frey off of the bench, really stepped up and hit shots when we needed them,” she said.
Maybe the tournament is special because seniors seem to come through when they are needed most.
Kathryn Jolliff, a senior guard for the Red Devils who was unable to play for most of the game with foul trouble, hit shots late in regulation and the first overtime to tie the game.
Maybe the tournament is special because some players have memorable performances when the spotlight shines brightest.
Arlington’s Jordyn Webb, who hit 5 of 5 3-pointers in the Red Devils prior tournament victory over Cory-Rawson, made seven in the final versus Riverdale and scored 10 of her game-high 22 points in the second overtime.
“(Webb)’s a great shooter, she always has been,” Newlove said.
“We wouldn’t have won the state championship without her last year and she showed how she can shoot the ball.”
Maybe the tournament is special because at the end of the day, only one team gets to experience the thrill of winning its last game.
“I told the girls there is only one team that doesn’t have to experience what we experienced tonight as far as losing,” Newlove said Saturday. “We were fortunate enough to be that team last year and somebody else will get to enjoy that this year.”
Whatever the reason, there is just something that makes the Ohio High School basketball tournament special.
By NATHAN INNIGER