Sam Mathews is sure he’ll look back on Badin High School’s boys basketball season in a very positive light, even if it did have a disappointing ending.
The Rams couldn’t make it a season sweep of Greater Catholic League Coed Division rival Alter on Tuesday night, dropping a 60-51 decision to the Knights in a Division II sectional semifinal at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
“We came out strong hitting shots in the fourth quarter. It was just a little too late,” said Mathews, a senior guard. “Every team is going to lose their last game except one, and it’s kind of hard to get over that. But it was a great season. I love everyone on this team. We played our hearts out every game.”
DIVISION I: La Salle 67, Hamilton 57
Mathews had 13 points and classmate Daunte DeCello tossed in 11 for fourth-seeded Badin (14-10), which defeated Alter 61-46 way back on Dec. 8.
The 11th-seeded Knights (10-14) have grown into a different team and will take a six-game winning streak into Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. sectional final against No. 6 Chaminade Julienne (10-14) at the University of Dayton Arena.
“That’s not a 9-14 team right now,” Rams coach Gerry Weisgerber said. “They’re so much different than they were at the beginning of the year with what they’re doing. They saw what was going on and made some changes, and they’re reaping the rewards of it now. They’re going to be a tough out.”
Badin struggled to find its shooting touch against Alter’s matchup zone in the first three quarters. The Knights trailed only once (7-6) and took the lead for good when Jack Smith’s 3-pointer made it 22-19 at halftime.
Smith scored 16 points, Derek Willits had 15 and Dominic Ruffolo added 13 in the winning effort.
“I really think one of our advantages was losing so badly the first game,” Alter coach Eric Coulter said. “Badin is a tough, physical team. We got manhandled the first game and turned the ball over 26 times.
“We played a really tough schedule for a reason. These guys went through a lot of adversity. We’ve had injuries. We’ve had all kinds of things with this team, and we’re young. But we’re maturing now.”
The rematch was ultimately decided at the charity stripe. The Knights made 25 of 32 free throws (17 of 20 in the fourth period). The Rams were just 5 of 9.
Mathews said it was “hard to describe” his feelings on Badin’s high foul count, but added, “The ref called what he saw. You can never blame a game on the officiating. They made their free throws too. Credit them for that.”
Coulter has been around long enough to know that sometimes the calls go your way, sometimes they don’t.
“You never know what kind of whistle you’re going to get in the tournament,” he said. “We were fortunate to go to the line that many times, but we still have to make them. Our free-throw percentage until recently hasn’t been the best, but now we’re taking advantage of it when we have opportunities.”
Alter’s biggest lead was 43-28 early in the fourth period. Badin got 3-pointers from Mathews, DeCello and Kyle Young down the stretch, but couldn’t get closer than 58-51 in the last 45 seconds.
“Badin did what all good teams do. They were fighting all the way to the end,” Coulter said. “Our guys had to really come together as a team and step up, and they did.
“I just love my kids. It’s a good time to be an Alter Knight. You always want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season, and there’s no question we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
Willits led the Knights in rebounds with eight, and Smith and Connor Meyer both hauled in six. DeCello paced the Rams with five boards.
“It’s a different game if we can get a 6- or 7-point lead and make them come out of that zone, but we could never get a lead,” Weisgerber said. “When you don’t see that kind of zone from anybody else during the year, getting ready for it is tough. We did some good things against it and got some good shots. We just didn’t knock enough down.”
The Rams are losing seven seniors, including Jakob Tipton, Kenny Pendergest, Caleb Meyer, Jordan Flaig and Young. This season marked Badin’s first winning record since 2013-14 and its most wins since going 15-9 in 2011-12.
“I’m proud of the season they had and the character the senior class showed,” Weisgerber said. “We’ll be back next year to take care of some unfinished business. It’s always going to be our goal to get to that district game, so we’re going to keep working at it.”
Alter will be looking for a reversal of fortune against CJ on Sunday, with the Eagles winning both games during GCLC play. CJ beat No. 3 Bellbrook 56-45 in Tuesday’s second game at Trent.
ALTER (10-14): Dominic Ruffolo 2 8 13, Connor Meyer 1 2 4, Jack Smith 4 7 16, Connor Bazelak 3 1 8, Derek Willits 4 7 15, Stephen Harker 2 0 4. Totals: 16-25-60
BADIN (14-10): Jakob Tipton 2 2 6, Daunte DeCello 5 0 11, Kyle Young 1 0 3, Sam Mathews 5 1 13, Caleb Meyer 3 0 7, Nathan Hegemann 2 1 5, Justin Pappas 1 1 4, Spencer Giesting 1 0 2. Totals: 20-5-51
3-pointers: A 3 (Ruffolo, Smith, Bazelak), B 6 (Mathews 2, Meyer, Pappas, Young, DeCello)