TROTWOOD — A Fairmont assistant coach swears the Firebirds players were the same ones who took on the Xenia Buccaneers for a pre-holiday game at the Benner Field House back in December, but they sure seemed to be a lot taller during Saturday’s Feb. 24 sectional tournament opener.
Sixth seeded Fairmont snared 42 rebounds, to an unofficial tally of 28 for the No. 10-seeded Bucs, in an 89-57 Division I tournament first-round win at Trotwood-Madison High School.
“We certainly feel like we’ve improved over the course of the year,” Fairmont head coach Blair Albright said. “… There’s a good spirit about this group, and a hunger that we really haven’t had in the postseason in a few years. When you have that, when things are clicking for you, it’s good. … I feel like our group has steadily improved throughout the season.”
Several of the Fairbirds’ points came as a result of offensive rebound putbacks. And on the defensive end, Xenia rarely got a second chance at scoring.
Even the scoring leaders changed since the two Greater Western Ohio Conference teams met up on Dec. 23, in what was a 60-48 Fairmont pre-Christmas win.
In the Benner Field House game, Jack Hendricks put up a game-high 29 points for the Firebirds. He had two points on Saturday.
This time, it was Kellan Bochenek who led the ‘Birds with a game-best 27 (He scored four in December). Ryan Hall scored 22, Cade Morgan scored 11 points and Dylan Crutchfield finished with 10 in Fairmont’s tournament win.
After some promising practices leading up to Saturday’s game, Buccaneers coach Kent Anderson said his team’s defensive pressure just wasn’t where it needed to be on game day.
“I thought we were about as bad defensively in stopping penetration as we’ve been. The difference in the first half was where they had about five stickbacks (for scores). Where we had to battle for rebounds, they followed their shots. And then we go about eight points down (41-33 at the half), and you feel that you have to start the second half with a little bit of a run,” Anderson said.
But instead, it was Fairmont who opened the second half with a run. The Firebirds reeled off the first six points of the second half, and continued on a 14-5 run in the first four minutes of the third quarter, to take a 56-38 lead.
“And then it’s like you’re out there chasing everything,” Anderson said. “We haven’t been a very good come-from-behind team this year. We haven’t been able to press much and get ourselves back into games. If we were even, we would be okay. But when we would get behind … we just weren’t very good defensively tonight.”
Samari Curtis led Xenia with a 19-point game, with senior teammates Jay Evans and Meechi Harris finishing in double figures with 17 and 16 points respectively. Curtis is a junior and a future Xavier Musketeer. Seniors Evans, Harris, R.J. Hunter, Ronnie Molitor, Max Lair and Jamille Henderson all played their final games as Buccaneers.
Anderson said the seniors should be proud of the four seasons they had while wearing Xenia blue.
“They were a part of a lot of success,” he said. “We were 54-20 going into this year, so we’re 65-32 the last four years, they won two thirds of their ball games, and there’s a couple of league titles in there. There’s been a lot of good memories and a lot of good relationships they’ve had during that time, and so we’re very happy for that.”
Fairmont (14-9) will now take on No. 3 seed Butler (19-3) in the Division I sectional semifinal. That game is set for a 7:30 p.m. start, Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Centerville High.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.