Boys basketball: Alter wins regional title, advances to state final four

Knights score 62-49 win over Cincinnati Woodward

VANDALIA – The Alter boys cut down a 10th regional championship net Saturday. And after head coach Eric Coulter snipped the final strand and waved it to the cheering crowd of players and fans, he hung it around senior Ryan Chew’s neck.

“Coach said I’ve never been able to cut nets down and he wanted this one to be mine,” Chew said.

More than the net belongs to Chew and the Knights. They own a berth in the Division II state semifinals at UD Arena after putting away Cincinnati Woodward in the fourth quarter for a 62-49 regional final victory at Vandalia Butler.

“It’s something I can’t really describe,” Alter senior Jacob Conner said. “Playing basketball in March, cutting down nets – it’s awesome.”

The second-ranked Knights (25-2) will face top-ranked and defending state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at 5:15 p.m. Friday. The Irish advanced with a 61-21 win over Louisville on Saturday.

Chew’s injured left wrist and his 5-foot-10, 145-pound frame were in the middle of everything good that happened for the Knights on Saturday. His metaphorical broad shoulders were far from the only thing the Knights needed, but without them the task would have been more difficult.

Chew was knocked out of Thursday’s regional semifinal and took the floor with an elaborate tape job on the injured wrist. He scored 21 points, ran the offense and sparked the defense to help lead the Knights to their first final four since 2013. Chew transferred from Bellbrook as a junior and was only able to play the first half of the season because of the state transfer rule.

“He came to Alter because he wanted to win, and there’s no chance he would be missing this game,” Alter guard Anthony Ruffolo said. “He could have a broken leg and he’d come out here and give it his all.”

Chew practiced Friday, but he still had to be cleared by team trainer Dan Miller.

“Right when I got home me and my dad had the conversation that it’s my senior year and we want to go to the state finals,” Chew said. “That’s when I decided.”

Coulter gave Miller credit for getting Chew ready to play, and he loved the toughness Chew showed in his effort without hesitancy to throw his body into vulnerable situations.

“He looked me in the eye and he said, ‘There’s no way I’m not playing this game,’” Coulter said.

All the things that have made Alter hard to beat this season were on display, and it started with defense. Their matchup zone with Chew and Gavin Geisel at the top communicating constantly frustrated Woodward star Paul McMillan IV. The Southwest District player of the year and Ohio’s sixth-leading all-time scorer was held to seven points. The Knights stopped his penetration game, made him give up the ball and kept him off rhythm when he did shoot.

“They did a great job pressuring the ball, making him uncomfortable, making him get the ball out of his hands, trying to force other guys to beat us,” said Conner, who at 6-9 guarded the rim, blocked a few shots and changed just as many others.

Woodward (23-4) led 15-9 early as others made shots that the Knights left open. But in the second quarter they started missing and Alter got its transition offense and 3-point attack going. The Knights closed the half with a 13-0 run to lead 30-21.

Woodward got going again in the second half and trailed 46-43 early in the fourth. But the Knights, who handled Woodward’s full-court and trapping defense with precision passing, started a 16-6 run over the final 5:25 on two Conner free throws.

Conner scored 17 points and A.J. Leen added 15.

The Knights have cut down a lot of nets – 28 district ones, 10 regional ones and three after state championships. Coulter, in his ninth season as head coach, was on legendary coach Joe Petrocelli’s staff and has been to three final fours with his mentor.

“I think about all the great coaches that I know personally that that have been coaching forever, that have never made it to where we’re at right now,” Coulter said. “And to me, it is very, very special. And it is very difficult to do. It’s not an easy thing.”

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