The Franklin boys’ basketball team clinched a share of the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern title last week, but the Wildcats want to win it outright.
They’ll get their chance Friday when they host Oakwood. A win guarantees they hold the title all to themselves, and that’s all coach Brian Bales is focusing on as he prepares his team. A Monroe loss to Bellbrook also would do it.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know league titles are hard to come by, so any way you get them you appreciate and value that, but we don’t want to share it,” Bales said. “Our goal is always ‘next play,’ ‘next game,’ and for us the next game happens to be one where we control our own destiny with a win, not having to share it. We face a good opponent in Oakwood so it’s not going to be an easy task but we’ve been in big games before and our guys will be ready.”
Franklin (17-4, 9-2 SWBL) saw its streak of seven straight titles end last year when a young squad couldn’t overcome a slow start to the SWBL season, despite a late turnaround at least putting the Wildcats back in the hunt. They entered the final league game against Oakwood needing a win and for Brookville to lose, but neither of those things happened and Brookville took the title.
The Wildcats swiped it back from Brookville last Friday, but Monroe still remains in the picture for a potential share. In the end, all Bales cares is how far his team has come.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bales said. “I’m happy for the seniors. We played a lot of juniors last year, and we went through a lot of close games and tough losses to get where we are now. We secured a share at Brookville last week, so it’s kind of come full circle because Brookville won it last year and we had a chance to take it back.”
This is the first year Bales has a chance to watch his own son climb the ladder for a piece of the net, which will be cut down to celebrate the title. Sophomore Isaiah Bales served as the team ball boy through the beginning of that previous run of titles and now he plays a role off the bench for the Wildcats. The first title Franklin won under Bales was in 2009 – the first title for the program since 1991 — and Isaiah was 4 years old then.
“It’s been a fun run,” Bales said. “To be able to do it at a place I went to school is special, nine in the last 12 years. Being an alum, it just makes it really special and now the neat thing is for my son to be able to do it with me. He wants a piece of that net.”
After going through some growing pains last year, Franklin has seen its experience pay off with the help of some talented new varsity players like sophomores Noah Rich (12.4 points per game) and Nate Paarlberg (7.7 ppg) and junior Tez Lattimore (8.8 ppg, 4.3 assists). Seniors Zack Minton (13.8 ppg) and Caleb Johnson (12.9 ppg, 7.3 rebounds) and Will Emrick (9.9 ppg) lead the team along with three other seniors, Ryan Russell, Kamry Fuller and Aiden Kinser, who contribute off the bench.
Bales likes the balance of the group, as five or six different players have led the team in scoring during games this season, and the Wildcats hope that helps as tournament time rolls around. Franklin, which is coming off a loss to Edgewood on Tuesday, plays as the No. 8 seed in its sectional opener against Stebbins on Feb. 22.
“I thought we were peaking until (Tuesday’s loss),” Bales said. “We are one of the smallest D1 schools in the state, so it’s a big challenge for us, but we think we can play with anyone.”
Others to watch: Edgewood (16-5, 10-1 SWOC) will be playing Mount Healthy (15-5, 10-1 SWOC) to decide the winner of the Southwest Ohio Conference on Friday at home. Mount Healthy won the title last year, and the Cougars are looking for just their second league title in program history – the first came more than a decade ago in the former Fort Ancient Valley Conference.
Madison (18-2, 9-2 SWBL) secured its share of the SWBL Buckeye title but can claim it outright with a win over Waynesville on Friday. Waynesville is the other contender with an 8-3 league record. The Mohawks close the regular season Saturday against Ross.
Monroe (13-8, 8-3 SWBL) will be hoping Oakwood beats Franklin so it can earn a share of the Southwestern title, but the Hornets have to take care of business against Bellbrook, a team they beat 61-39 on Dec. 6.
Lakota East (19-2, 14-1 GMC) won the Greater Miami Conference title Tuesday with a win over Oak Hills and closes against rival Lakota West on the road Friday. Hamilton (15-6) looks for its fifth win in a row Friday against Oak Hills as the Big Blue seek to keep momentum going into the postseason. They haven’t had a 15-win season since 2007 when they finished 17-6.
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