The Press Newspaper
There’s something about Jake Schmeltz that sets him apart from other players.
The Eastwood backcourt boss, who is in his fourth year of varsity basketball, is off to a quick start, averaging 21 points per game while splitting time between point guard and shooting guard. The driving force behind the Eagles’ offense, Schmeltz is a versatile talent that can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the basket and create points for his teammates.
The Eagles are 3-3 and 1-2 in the Northern Buckeye Conference, though second-year coach Matt Routson says they are showing steady improvement and due for a turnaround. It’s already starting as of last weekend.
Their three losses came on the road, two of them to Rossford (53-42) and Lake (52-49), both of which were picked to finish at the top of the league. Last weekend, they won back to back contests, routing Genoa 87-46, and then defeating perennial Blanchard Valley Conference power Liberty-Benton, 64-63, in overtime.
In a 66-53 season-opening win over Maumee, Schmeltz scored 33 points, including five 3-point goals. He scored 25 in the second half as the Eagles broke open a close game, scoring 28 points as a team in the final quarter. Schmeltz also had nine rebounds, six assists, and three steals and the Eagle defense forced 16 Panther turnovers.
Maumee had come back to tie the game at 31-all on a 3-point goal by Maumee senior guard Chris Harding with 1:50 remaining in the third stanza. Schmeltz then reeled off the final six points to put the Eagles up by six, 37-31, heading into the final quarter.
In the fourth, just when Maumee’s zone defense thought they had Schmeltz figured out, he hit two straight three’s from beyond 22 feet.
When the Panthers tried to stop that, Schmeltz drove and dished off three straight assists to Eastwood’s 6-foot-5 senior post Grant Peters, who scored six straight points to put Eastwood up 52-46 midway through the fourth. Peters finished the game with 13 points and blocked four shots. It did not hurt any that the Eagles had 34 chances at the free throw line, making 19.
“We didn’t win a non-league game last year, so we kind of set a goal that we wanted to win some this year, and that was a big win for us over a well-coached program and a good team in Maumee,” Routson said.
Schmeltz then scored 24 points, including four treys, in the comeback win over L-B, and Peters had 17, many of those coming on dishes from Schmeltz. At halftime, the Eagles were down to L-B by 15 points (32-17), but the Eagles scored 47 points through the second half and overtime.
Schmeltz also had 28 points and 6-foot-4 post Steven Bradley scored 16 in a 77-66 non-league loss to Sylvania Northview. Schmeltz says he understands well his role leading the offense.
“When I’m at point guard, I know that I need to score and rotate the ball on offense,” said Schmeltz, who helped lead Eastwood to an NBC title in 2012. “When you play point guard, your mentality changes and you want to get the other guys involved.”
Routson says Schmeltz, a three-year starter, brings a lot to the table.
“Jake is a weapon on offense,” Routson said. “Good things happen for us when he has the ball. He’s our best three-point shooter. He’s an excellent passer. He sees the floor well (and) he has a knack for making a play. When we need a play, we go to him. He’s also done a nice job getting our post players involved and getting them open looks, as well as our other guys.”
Schmeltz, who is 6-1, is joined in the starting lineup by four other seniors in point guard Michael Flipse (5-8), guard/forward Jordan Faykosh (6-2) and big men Peters and Bradley in the post. Faykosh came up huge in the win over L-B, scoring 12 points.
The bench features aggressive paint man Zach Jacoby, who would start for many teams. Jacoby, who stands 6-4 and plays in the post, is averaging five points and has proven to be formidable presence down low while providing depth in the frontcourt.
Guards Nick Coffman (5-10) and Noah Smith (5-9) have also provided some production off the bench, as has senior post Jacob Rahe (5-10). Routson is especially complimentary of Rahe, a captain who provides leadership and helps to play interior defense and rebound. And junior Tim Hoodlebrink, a starter on last year’s squad, returned to the lineup after missing the season’s first four games.
“We’ve focused on our size,” said Routson. “We’ve got three athletic post players and we’ve tried to get them involved in our offense and we feel that things can open up on the perimeter if things go well on the inside.”
It is the second year of varsity action for Bradley (11 pts.), Peters (9.8), Faykosh, Flipse and Rahe, something that has proven to be instrumental in their improved play this season following an 8-15 campaign last year.
“I have some guys that played a lot of basketball last season as first-year varsity players,” Routson said. “They have a lot more confidence in their abilities.”
Schmeltz, who led the NBC in scoring averaging 18 points last season, has seen the difference, too.
“(The second year) has definitely helped them,” he said. “They’ve just matured so much more physically after getting in the weight room and they’ve been working in the summer. They’re a lot more confident. They know their roles and what they have to do to be successful.”
The Eagles were picked to finish third in the league, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t recover after having already faced the two best teams in the NBC on the road. In addition to that, Eastwood was recently moved down to Division III, something that gives them a better shot at making a run in the postseason.
Routson has plenty of confidence in his team.
“We have a pretty good group of seniors that work hard and I’m excited to see what we can do as we move forward,” he said. “We’ve probably underachieved a little at this point and we’re hungry.”
Routson saw their three-point loss to Lake as a possible turning point. Despite losing, the Eagles held a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and were ahead until Flyers guard Jacob Rettig connected on a three-pointer with 3.2 seconds remaining to give Lake the win.
“I thought we played a pretty good game at Lake,” he said. “We were really competitive with a great team on their floor. I feel like we’re improved and I’m excited to get back on the court.”