The Press Newspaper
Eastwood’s heartbreaking loss to Rossford wasn’t exactly the way Eagles’ coach Matt Routson wanted to head into the sectional tournament.
The Eagles were riding a five-game win streak, but the Bulldogs hit a shot with one second left to hand Eastwood a 50-48 Northern Buckeye Conference loss. The Eagles were 17-6 heading into a Division III sectional final against Margaretta (14-9) Friday and finished 10-4 in the NBC after routing Fostoria (2-19, 0-14), 77-33, in their final regular season game.
The Eagles were looking forward to the D-III tournament — a step down from last year, leaving an opportunity for a team to get some championships. Meanwhile, in D-II tourney play at Clay, Rossford lost its sectional opener, 69-67, in overtime to defending Division I state runner-up Rogers (13-9), but losing to the Bulldogs was still a disappointment for Eastwood.
“The (Rossford) game was important for us to win,” Routson said, “but in the grand scheme it didn’t mean a whole lot. If we would have won, we would have been tied for second (in the NBC). We tried to focus on it being like a tournament game. Rossford (15-7, 12-2) is a really well-coached team playing really well. Unfortunately, we didn’t play very well in the second and third quarter. It’s frustrating for our kids but we talked about, let’s learn from this so when we’re in the tournament, we can overcome this situation.”
The Eagles have lost two other games near the final buzzer this season. They lost to Lake, 52-49, in December and lost to Otsego, 63-60, earlier this month. Eastwood also handed sixth-ranked Lake (21-1, 13-1) its only loss this season.
Routson’s won its first sectional tournament game in more than three years when it defeated Western Reserve (11-11), a member of the Firelands Conference, 54-47 in the sectional opener at Oak Harbor Wednesday. Routson is hoping that dropping down a division will give the Eagles a boost.
“We’re going to play at Oak Harbor, which is a place we played during the regular season,” Routson said. “We have some tough matchups. Last year we were in the sectional with Defiance, Bowling Green, Wauseon — schools that are bigger than us and really good basketball programs. Last year’s sectional had four or five teams that represented the champion of their league. This one is difficult, but the schools are similar to us in size and ability.”
Routson said this year’s senior class is eager to break its tournament losing streak.
“I think it would be big,” Routson said. “One of our goals is to win a sectional title. We have a good group of kids who have worked hard. We have a great senior class and good underclassmen who have played well for us. It would be nice to get a couple wins under our belt and do something special for our program.”
Eastwood’s starting lineup consists of four seniors and junior Tim Hoodlebrink. Senior guard Jake Schmeltz, who had 22 points in the loss to Rossford, leads the team in scoring (19.4 pts.) and steals (2 steals) and averages more than four assists a game.
“Jake’s been extremely unselfish this year and still is able to score for us,” Routson said. “His focus has really been the team’s success. He’s doing a great job being a leader on the court and being positive with everybody. In that regard, he’s done a tremendous job this year.”
Eastwood’s three big men, 6-foot-5 seniors Grant Peters and Steven Bradley and 6-4 backup Zach Jacoby, all shoot better than 60 percent from the field. The Eagles were shooting 56 percent as a team before shooting 32 percent against Rossford on Wednesday.
Peters averages 12.8 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds, while Bradley averages 7.3 points and four rebounds.
“Grant gets better every time he hits the court,” Routson said. “He’s a fantastic kid to coach and he’s been a leader for us as well. Offensively, he’s done a great job. Steven Bradley plays a big role in scoring, but he defends well. He’s so long that he can defend the post and the perimeter. We will put him on the other team’s (best) shooter; defensively, he’s done a fantastic job for us.”
Senior point guard Michael Flipse averages 4.2 assists per game and has a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
“He distributes and scores when we need him,” Routson said.
Hoodlebrink averages just five points a game but also does a lot of the little things, according to Routson.
“He’s an extremely athletic kid who fills a stat sheet,” the coach said. “He’s averaging four rebounds and almost two steals a game. He does a little bit of everything on the court. He’s really our go-to defender. We put him on their best offensive guard.”
Jacoby averages 7.5 points and five rebounds while backing up Peters and Bradley.
“It’s nice to start two 6-5 kids and bring another one off the bench,” Routson said. “Zach rebounds well for us. If the other two get in foul trouble, he picks up right where they left off.”
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