Botkins rallies past Richmond Heights, into Division IV state championship game

What everybody not in a Botkins uniform, on the Botkins bench or wearing Botkins gear in UD Arena expected to happen Friday against Richmond Heights, was about to happen.

The long and athletic team from Northeast Ohio with the player with an Ohio State offer, had taken control in the third quarter. But the lead was only five, and the presumed intimidation factor wasn’t really a thing.

“If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” senior guard Zane Paul said, shrugging off the notion of feeling intimidated. “We’re small-town Botkins. Nobody really knows our name, but we’re going to put it on the map.”

To be known as more than just a spot on the map, Botkins, which led 27-24 at halftime, had to find a way to emerge from a 10-and-a-half minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter. The Trojans did it with defense and big shots to win 44-40 and advance to Sunday’s Division IV state championship.

“We were pressing a little bit, not taking care of the basketball, every shot was a little short, instead of just executing and playing that one possession,” Botkins coach Sean Powell said. “We’ll do a better job of that on Sunday.”

The Trojans (26-3), whose only other state trip happened in 1994, will play Columbus Grove (25-2) for the title at 10:45 a.m. Sunday at UD. Grove rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat New Boston Glenwood 58-53, but the Trojans won’t be intimidated.

“We played teams, to us, just as good as Richmond Heights,” Powell said.

RH (17-5) had earned it’s reputation as the tournament favorite with a schedule that included strong Division I and II teams. The Spartans led 35-30 going into the fourth quarter, but it could have been worse if not for Botkins getting repeated stops that kept the lead from getting out of reach.

“A timeout was called and one of assistant coaches said things aren’t going our way, but they will,” Paul said. “Just keep going hard, as hard as you can because our motto is tomorrow’s not promised.”

The fourth-quarter rally began when struggling big man Jacob Pleiman scored to end the drought with 5:04 left. Then Jayden Priddy-Powell, who scored a game-high 19 points, scored in the lane to cut the deficit to two with 3:30 left.

The coaching chess match began and Powell brought senior sharpshooter Jameson Meyer off the bench. He had missed three shots, two of them threes, but he didn’t hesitate on the fast break to launch a 3-pointer from the left wing. He made it and Botkins had its first lead since the middle of the third quarter at 37-36.

Meyer went back to the bench right away, but when Botkins had to inbound from the baseline trailing 38-37, Powell put Meyer back in the game. The play was called for Meyer and he drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 40-38 lead.

“We knew they were going to sink down to the baseline, so I’d be open up top,” Meyer said. “I just knocked it down.”

A Priddy-Powell jumper in the lane broke a 40-40 tie, and a free throw each by Priddy-Powell and Pleiman clinched it. Pleiman finished with six points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals after a rough first half. Paul added nine points and four assists.

RH’s Josiah Harris, the 6-foot-7 junior with an Ohio State offer, had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow big Preist Ryan played only 14 minutes because of foul trouble and was held to eight points and four rebounds.

“They have the offers and big names, but at the end of the day it’s basketball,” Powell said. “It’s how five guys work together, how five guys defend, how five guys rebound. And we felt like we were the better defensive team, better rebounding team and we were going to take care of the ball against their pressure.”

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