‘Taking the next step’: 20-1 Franklin gets first basketball tournament win since move up to D-I

Franklin's Tez Lattimore tries to score against Stebbins' Nate Keller in a Division I sectional game Saturday at Centerville. Franklin advanced with a 71-65 victory. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Franklin's Tez Lattimore tries to score against Stebbins' Nate Keller in a Division I sectional game Saturday at Centerville. Franklin advanced with a 71-65 victory. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

CENTERVILLE – The Franklin boys basketball team finally feels like it belongs in Division I.

The Wildcats moved up three years ago and had winning records the past two years, but tournament time was one and done. This year the Wildcats had a great season with an early-season loss the only blemish on their record.

Saturday afternoon they entered sectional play as No. 6 seed against No. 12 Stebbins, the team that knocked the Wildcats out in the first round last year. But this time the Wildcats made 12 3-pointers and advanced with a 71-65 victory.

“This was one we really wanted, making that jump to Division I,” Franklin coach Brian Bales said. “I told them today is about taking the next step.”

The Wildcats (20-1) face No. 5 Lebanon (15-3) in a second-round game at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Centerville.

Stebbins (6-7) led early, but junior forward Noah Rich made three 3-pointers to spark the Wildcats to the lead. Rich scored 20 points and made four threes. Isaiah Bales, a junior guard, made five threes and scored 17. Like Rich in the first half, Bales hit crucial threes in the fourth quarter to hold off Stebbins, which got as close as 65-63 with 2:10 left after trailing by double digits.

“I was just feeling it, and me and my teammates were doing everything that we could,” Rich said. “We responded really well to every punch that they threw.”

Stebbins played hard like a team that had a puncher’s chance. Senior star Jakob Reed, who was cleared from Covid-19 quarantine on Saturday, scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half. Senior forward Ryan Hickey was cleared to play Friday and scored 18 points. Starter Nate Keller was also cleared Saturday to play.

It’s been that kind of year for Stebbins. They were off for 49 days. They played games on Dec. 2 and 4, then didn’t play again until Jan. 22. Add to that, head coach Ron Coleman missed two months, leaving the assistant coach Mike Stogsdill in charge. The team also dedicated the season to the memory of teammate Joe Thomas Palmer who died last May and would have been a junior this season.

“For these guys to stay together and blend and bond and grow up, that’s what coaching’s all about,” Stebbins coach Ron Coleman said. “It’s not about the wins and losses all the time. It’s about the maturation of your players and doing the right things. I guess the only way I’d be more pleased is if they had won.”

Reed said: “A lot of teams could not have done what we have done.”

Vandalia Butler 68, Troy 56: Point guard Tyler Montague was an encouraging voice on the floor and in the locker room for Butler in Saturday’s Division I sectional victory.

“I told them before the game it’s about who can take a punch and who gets rattled first,” Montague said. “With us not getting rattled, that kept us in the game.”

Troy (9-12) led by four after the first quarter, but Butler (13-8) kept grinding to lead by six at halftime and by 10 after three quarters. Montague scored a game-high 23 points, center Connor Buchanan had 12 and Quinton Hall 10.

“I like how we continued to stay in it from the beginning,” Butler coach Adam Betten said. “We knew that Shaeden [Olden] and Jaden [Owens] were going to come out and be ready to go, so defensively we just had to lock in and keep our game plan.”

Olden and Owens both scored 20 points and kept the No. 11 Trojans within striking distance.

Butler, the eighth seed, faces either No. 9 Sidney or No. 14 Beavercreek at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Centerville.

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