While the population in the village of St. Henry is less than 2,500 residents — 2,427 at the 2010 census to be exact — it’s big on athletic talent.
That’s what sets it apart from other places, said St. Henry High School coach Eric Rosenbeck, who is in his 10th season as boys basketball head coach and also serves as the school’s principal. The school has seen countless athletes — boys and girls — earn scholarships to play at the next level.
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“The kind of athletes who come out of this community always amazes me,” Rosenbeck said. “That’s where the tradition comes from. You get really good players and good families that compete hard that makes it easy on us coaches. All we have to do is get them in the gym and work at it.”
The 2018-19 boys basketball team is stamping its place in Redskins lore. Third-ranked St. Henry (24-3) will face No. 1 Berlin Hiland (27-1) in a Division IV state semifinal game at noon Friday at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Richmond Heights (21-6) faces No. 2 Convoy Crestview (26-1) in the other semifinal at 2 p.m.
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The winners will advance to the D-IV state final at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.
St. Henry’s run to state has created a hysteria around the village, Rosenbeck said. The school sold 1,100 presale tickets to its regional final game against Jackson Center.
“We’ve had some really, really good teams since that 2004 team made it to state and for whatever reason we haven’t been able to get it done,” Rosenbeck said. “The one positive is it makes the community a little bit hungrier and more engaged. Our fans have been phenomenal. … Our students are into it. Everybody’s into it. That energy is feeding off to our guys.”
The Redskins are led by four seniors, including 6-foot-6, 300-pound post player Caden Niekamp (13.1 points per game), who was recently named D-IV All-Ohio Special Mention. He signed to play football at Ball State University. Seniors Zach Niekamp (11.0 ppg), Ethan Thieman (8.8 ppg), Jay Knapke (8.8 ppg) and junior guard Ben Evers round out the Redskins starting lineup.
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St. Henry is making its sixth trip to the state tournament, but first since 2004. The Redskins have had great success in Columbus, taking home the title in 2004, 1991, 1990 and 1979. The 2000 team also finished as state runner-up.
Berlin Hiland is making its second straight trip to the D-IV state semifinals and 11th overall. Last season, the Hawks lost to Cornerstone Christian in the state semifinal.
They enter the game having won 20 straight games, including blowout victories over Coal Grove Dawson-Bryant and New Boston Glenwood in the regional tournament.
Berlin Hiland is led by senior Kendall Hochstetler (15.9 ppg), an All-Ohio second team selection, and Andy Miller, the school’s all-time leader in assists who was also named All-Ohio Honorable Mention.
The Hawks like to get the ball up and down the floor and play a style similar to Midwest Athletic Conference foe Anna, Rosenbeck said.
The Redskins beat two of its MAC rivals — Minster in the sectional final and Marion Local in the district final — to advance to the regionals.
“It’s just a bear to get out of our district with so many good teams,” Rosenbeck said. “To get by Minster and Marion Local was a huge step for our program.”
St. Henry beat seventh-ranked Catholic Central and Jackson Center in regionals to advance to the state’s Final Four.
The Redskins have won 16 straight games. They’re prepared after having played one of the most competitive schedules in small-school basketball, Rosenbeck said.
“We’ve seen every kind of style, whether it’s the run-and-gun of Celina or the methodical, take-your-time and 15 passes from Fort Loramie,” he said. “Not many times do you see the top three teams ranked in the state (in the state semifinals). It should be really fun.”