The Franklin High School boys basketball team wasn’t leaving Brookville without at least a share of the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division title.
A year ago, the Blue Devils won the division title, ending Franklin’s run of seven straight championships — and the Wildcats weren’t going to let it happen again.
Franklin won its seventh straight game, beating Brookville 56-47 on Friday night to claim at least a share of its eighth Southwestern division title in nine seasons.
“That was kind of our motto tonight: ‘Take back what’s ours’,” Bales said. “We were able to do that in the Brookville gym. Kudos to those guys, they’re awesome coaches and players. I thought our guys competed. It was close, very close.”
»RELATED: F riday' s high school scoreboard
Caden Johnson scored 12 points, Tez Lattimore and Nate Paarlberg each had 11 and Noah Rich had 10 for the Wildcats.
“It’s special,” said Wildcats senior Ryan Russell. “We did it in football, so we had to do it in basketball. It’s very special.”
The Wildcats senior class talked about bringing the league title back to the program, but it wasn’t their sole focus, Russell said.
“We talked about it a little bit, but our main focus was just the next (game),” Russell said. “We wanted to keep our energy and effort. We knew if we did that, it would turn into the title.”
With a win against Oakwood in their home finale, Franklin can claim the outright SWBL Southwestern title.
“It’s special for these seniors,” Bales said. “They went through a lot of battles last year as juniors. This is something they wanted.”
AJ Eller scored a game-high 16 points for the Blue Devils (11-10, 4-7), while Daniel Dominique had 12 points and Tommy Dafler added 10.
Franklin placed an emphasis on shutting down Eller, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. The goal was to hold him to 12 points or less, Bales said. They used Russell to face guard him all over the floor.
“We thought he was the head of the dragon,” he said. “When he goes, they go. We knew we had to be special on him. He’s a really good player. … (Wildcat senior) Ryan Russell was really good guarding him.”
Brookville led 9-4 early in the first quarter, but the Wildcats stormed back to grab a 23-18 lead on a 3-pointer by Paarlberg with about three minutes remaining in the first half. The Blue Devils’ Jack Stanoikovich hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut Franklin’s lead to 29-28 at the half.
Brookville took the lead at 36-35 early in the third quarter, but the Wildcats turned up their full-court pressure and went on a 14-3 run to take control of the game. Paarlberg hit another 3-pointer with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats a 49-39 lead.
“We were able to press and pick up our tempo,” Bales said. “(Tez Lattimore) was just contagious at that point. He’s pretty special in those kind of moments. I think that run is what willed us to the win.”
The Blue Devils eventually cut the lead to four, but couldn’t come all the way back after Franklin’s run.
“It’s hard to come back from,” Davidson said. “They’ve got some guys that are hard to defend. You get down seven and you’ve got to come out and guard them 35 feet from the basket, it becomes very difficult and kind of feeds into what they’re already good at. The kids battled. We’ve just got to make a few more shots.”
The Wildcats have lost just three games all season, two of which came against Southwestern Division rival Bellbrook. The Wildcats’ other loss came to Crestwood Prep, Canada at the Flyin to the Hoop showcase.
They beefed up their schedule this year with hopes of making a tournament run in Division I, which included a victory over Springboro.
“We’re with the big boys,” Bales said. “We’re one of the smallest schools in the state of Ohio in D-I, I think by two kids. It is what it is. We don’t make any excuses. It’s a tough, tough tournament for us. … It’ll be interesting to see where we’re seeded. Our guys believe they can play with anybody.”
About the Author