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Prep basketball season delivered excitement to area

Another high school basketball season has come and gone.

Way back in late November when football season was wrapping up and we began to work on our annual Tip-Off basketball preview their was a feeling of uncertainty from area coaches as to how much, if any, of the 2020-2021 basketball season would be able to be played as the COVID-19 pandemic was in the middle of its second wave.

Thanks to the tiresome efforts of athletic directors, coaches, players and fans all across the area, the Ohio high school basketball season was not only able to begin but was able to be completed in its usual manner … and what a season it was.

Sure, most of the games were played in front of very small crowds and didn’t really seem quite the same until larger crowds were permitted in the state tournament but there were plenty of highlights never the less.

I thought I would take the time to list some of the best of the best that I witnessed during the season.

Topping the list for me would have to be the impressive run put together by the Waterford Wildcat girls team as they seemingly came out of nowhere to claim a regional championship before bowing out in the final four to McDonald.

Many, including myself, may have taken the Wildcats lightly after they lost six times in the regular season but all six of those losses came at the hands of some mighty stiff competition.

Things seemed to click for the ‘Cats after a thrilling late season win over Alexander and the job that head coach Jerry Close and his staff did may rank among the best of their 20-year run.

The Fort Frye Cadet girls team may have taken a similar path to Dayton had it not been for their advancing to Division III after claiming a spot in the Final Four last year when they were still a D-IV school.

The Dan Liedtke-led Cadets drew eventual state champion Berlin Hiland in the regional semifinals and came up short but were no doubt the very best girls team in the area this season.

On the boys side both Warren and Fort Frye advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 before seeing their seasons come to a close on back-to-back nights at Southeastern High School in Chillicothe.

The Cadets’ only two regular season losses came at the hands of the Warriors as they were 20-0 against all other opponents before bowing out to Fairland.

Warren played a very tough schedule as well to prepare themselves for the tournament and went 17-3 before suffering a heart-breaking, controversial one-point loss in overtime to Meadowbrook in their regional semifinal.

After having the pleasure to cover all of our local teams throughout the season, I thought it would be fitting to pass out some awards for some of the best performances I witnessed.

BEST GIRLS COACHING PERFORMANCE: Jerry Close Waterford, RUNNER UP: Dan Liedtke Fort Frye

There were quite a few outstanding performances by area coaches this season but none were able to advance as far as Close and his staff were able to. He certainly had his team playing at its very best at the right time. The job that Liedtke does every single year is amazing and with players like Kenzie Dalton, Hannah Archer and Riley Medley returning next season don’t be surprised if the Cadets find themselves right back in the hunt.

BEST BOYS COACHING PERFORMANCE: Blane Maddox, Warren RUNNER UP: Eric Henniger, Fort Frye.

Either one of these two would be the right choice and quite deserving but we will go with the long-time Warrior head coach this season after his team’s outstanding season. Year after year Maddox puts together a highly competitive ball team and next year will be no different although they will lose a bunch of talent from this year’s squad. Henniger has followed in Liedtke’s shoes and finds a way to keep the Cadet basketball tradition alive every season.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: Bede Lori, Caldwell

In just his sophomore season Lori not only eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in scoring but also set an Ohio high school basketball record by shooting an incredible 95.7 percent (180-for-188) from the free throw line. At one point Lori made 62 feeebies in a row which was just six shy of yet another record. Lori averaged 22.2 points per game and is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer at Caldwell in his junior season.

BEST COMEBACK PERFORMANCE: Seth Dennis, Warren

Hands down this goes to Dennis as the Warrior senior came all the way back from a serious back injury suffered in an automobile accident last year. Many wondered if Dennis would ever be able to play any kind of sport again but he not only made it onto the court for the season opener but was perhaps the very best player on the court in the regional semifinal loss to Meadowbrook as he led his team with 18 points and seven assists.

BEST P.A. ANNOUNCER: Fred Ruth, Warren, RUNNER-UP: Greg Kroft, Marietta

In what was the final season in the original “Warrior Coliseum,” Warren will need to come up with quite the P.A. system in their new gym to match the excitement that Ruth has brought for years at Warrior home games. Kroft is the consummate professional and keeps fans informed as well or better than anyone else in the area.

BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM: Makayla Welch, Marietta, RUNNER-UP: Todd Bradford, Frontier.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to attend a Marietta boys or girls basketball game got to hear an outstanding recording of the National Anthem recorded by Marietta senior Makayla Welch before each contest. Finally late in the season Tiger fans were able to witness Welch’s stirring version in person and the reception was loud by both the MHS fans as well as the visiting team. Let’s all hope next year she will be invited to perform the Star Spangled Banner in front of a packed house at Sutton Gym. Bradford for many years has done an excellent acapella version of the anthem before Cougars games many times while serving as an assistant coach in the same game.

Mike Morrison is a sports reporter for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at (740) 373-2121 ext. 534.

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