Ross basketball earns first conference title in 27 years, and the Rams are looking for more

Max Stepaniak is the Ross Rams leading scorer this season. The Rams last week clinched the SWOC title. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Max Stepaniak is the Ross Rams leading scorer this season. The Rams last week clinched the SWOC title. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Ross High School boys basketball team claimed its first conference championship in 27 years last weekend, and coach David Lane doesn’t want the Rams to feel satisfied.

Ross won the Southwest Ohio Conference with a 45-41 win over Edgewood on Jan. 29 and now heads into the final four games looking to build momentum for the postseason. The Rams (16-2, 8-0 SWOC) play host to Harrison on Friday and will get another good non-conference test Saturday at Hamilton.

“It meant a lot,” Lane said of winning the program’s first conference title since 1994. “It feels great for the kids. It had been a long-time coming, but it’s a testament to the kids and their hard work and buy-in to what we’re trying to do. They understand that if we do things the right way and play as a team, good things will come. I don’t think a lot of people understood what this team was capable of and I’m just extremely proud.”

Lane believes this team is capable of much more.

Ross finished 17-7 last year, following back-to-back 15-8 seasons, and the senior class has been a part of a big turnaround the past four years under Lane. The Rams were 6-17 in 2016-17, prior to his arrival.

“We’re not looking too far ahead,” Lane said. “We just have to keep fighting to get better. ‘Don’t become complacent’ is the message. They understand that.”

Ross has been one of the more balanced lineups in the area this season. Max Stepaniak (15.6 points, 7.3 rebounds) and Sam Nunn (13.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists) lead the offense, but Jimmy Booker (8.9 points), C.J. Boze (6.9 points) and Joe Schottelkotte (6.9 points, 4.2 rebounds) also have been consistent contributors, and Kellen Reid adds 4.3 points as the first man off the bench.

With Reid out recently because of a COVID-19 quarantine, Richie Jackson stepped in to contribute eight points in a win over Northwest on Jan. 26 and Tyler Hood added a season-high six points against Edgewood.

“The key for us has been our ability to come together as a team in tough times, playing together and trusting the process,” Lane said. “When you go through the second time in the conference, it’s a little tougher because everyone makes adjustments, but in tough games against Edgewood and Northwest, their ability to lock in, continue to grind and not give up, they just found a way to pull it out.”

Conference titles still up for grabs

Franklin also clinched a title last week – collecting its ninth Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern title in the last 10 years – but area teams still remain in the hunt in the Greater Miami Conference, Greater Catholic League Co-Ed Division and Miami Valley Conference.

Fairfield (8-4, 7-1 GMC) maintains the lead in the GMC, followed by Lakota East (12-4, 9-3 GMC), but the Indians are scheduled to finish with just 14 games played, instead of the usual 16.

According to Lakota West athletic director Scott Kaufman, the agreement by the GMC at the beginning of the season was that a school has to play at least 12 GMC games to be considered in the standings, and the champion would be decided by win percentage in conference games. Fairfield is at .875 right now, with East trailing at .750.

In the GCLC, Fenwick (8-5, 5-3) still has a chance but McNicholas has just one conference loss in 10 games and Chaminade Julienne – the Falcons’ opponent Friday and Tuesday – also stands in the way at 6-3 in the GCLC. Roger Bacon is tied with Fenwick at 5-3.

New Miami (9-4, 4-2 MVC) is in second in the MVC Gray Division, behind Cincinnati Country Day (15-4, 6-0 MVC) with three games left.

Scoring milestone

Fenwick senior A.J. Braun topped the 1,000-point mark for his career on Tuesday, scoring 30 points in a 55-51 loss to McNicholas.

Braun, a Wright State University signee who leads the GCLC with 18.8 points per game, now has 1,019 points in four seasons with the Falcons. The 6-foot-10 center has scored all but 20 of his points over the last three seasons, including 454 last year and 300 as a sophomore.

“He’s meant everything to the team,” Fenwick coach Kelven Moss said. “He’s our motor, go-to guy, our leader and we count on him. He has a heavy load. We count on him to lead us in the scoring, count on him to clean up the boards and count on him defensively to protect the rim. He’s carried a heavy load for the Falcons.”

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