FRANKLIN — If Brookville High School’s boys basketball team ends up celebrating an outright Southwestern Buckeye League title next week, Brian Bales can live with that.
His Franklin Wildcats did their part to keep the Southwestern Division championship chase alive Friday night by outlasting the visiting Blue Devils 72-68 in overtime inside an energy-filled Darrell Hedric Gym.
“I’m so proud of my young kids,” Bales said. “The last couple days we just talked about controlling what we can control. This is the position we’re in, and we can control us.
“Gosh, hats off to Brookville. They’re a very good team with a very good coaching staff that I respect a lot. They’re a nightmare to prepare for. But for the guys that have been here before us for the last seven years, we were not going to let them get the outright league title in our gym. That was kind of our war cry all week.”
Brookville is 16-3 overall and 8-3 in the SWBL, having already clinched a share of its first league title since 1989-90. Franklin (14-6, 7-4), Monroe (10-9, 7-4) and Oakwood (10-9, 7-4) are all one game back with one contest remaining.
Next Friday, Brookville goes to Valley View, Franklin travels to Oakwood and Monroe visits Bellbrook. Franklin is trying to get a piece of its eighth straight Southwestern crown.
“It’s tough going to Valley View,” Blue Devils coach Jeff Davidson said. “They’re playing much better now, and that’s the way we want it to be. We want to get every team’s best. That way we know we’re the best.
“Our team is growing up. We’ve had a fantastic season. We have goals still in place that we want to achieve, and they’re coming together tighter and tighter each night. It feels like somebody different can step up each night. That’s the sign of a good team.”
The Blue Devils led by as many as nine points in the second quarter, then trailed by as many as 10 in the fourth period, and got double-digit scoring from Jacob Gudorf (24), A.J. Eller (17) and Wade Turner (11).
The Wildcats countered with career-best scoring efforts from Savon O’Neal (30) and Ryan Russell (16), with Zack Minton also scoring 16.
“My team fought hard,” said O’Neal, a junior guard in his first season at Franklin after transferring from Miamisburg. “We came together and locked in at the end. They had all the hype around them, but we felt good because we’re at home, we’ve got a big crowd and it’s our last home game of the season.
“I love games like this. Big crowd. Good overall play. Toughness. Just a lot of big plays.”
The 5-foot-7 O’Neal grabbed 11 rebounds and had four assists in a performance that included one dynamic drive to the basket after another.
The Blue Devils were clearly willing to give him the outside shot, but his quickness couldn’t be denied.
“I love the feeling. I was pumped,” O’Neal said. “At first the mid-range wasn’t working, so I had to get to the rim. Every time, I felt like I was going to get to the rim or I was going to kick it out for a 3-pointer if they closed over on me.”
Franklin totaled nine 3-pointers — four by Russell, three by Minton and two by Kamry Fuller.
“We gave up too many second-chance opportunity kickout 3s,” Davidson said. “We talk about it all the time. Franklin’s got guys all over the place that can shoot the 3, so they better be one-and-done on as many of them as possible. We’ve got to get bodies on bodies and box out.”
O’Neal couldn’t get a close-range shot to fall in the final seconds of regulation, which ended at 59-59. The Wildcats trailed briefly in OT, but went ahead for good (66-63) on O’Neal’s three-point play with 1:12 left.
Franklin’s free-throw shooting wasn’t great (7-of-13 in overtime, 17-of-29 overall), but Minton’s two foul shots with 0.5 on the clock sealed the win.
“I thought situation-wise we were really good at the end of the game,” Bales said. “I was proud of our defense because Brookville can be very explosive offensively. There’s a reason they’re No. 9 in the state. They’ve got a legitimate chance in Division III to make a run. They’ve got a special group that’s led by seniors.
“What an awesome high school basketball atmosphere that was. We had a lot of juniors out there tonight in some big-time moments, and they responded. I think it shows our growth from Night 1 when Brookville beat us by 17 to Game 20. Our guys closed the deal tonight.”
Brayden Hall grabbed 10 rebounds for Franklin, and Will Emrick and Braden Woods both snagged five. Wes Turner contributed 14 boards for the Blue Devils, while Gudorf had 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks.
Davidson said he was leaving the gym with mixed emotions.
“It felt like three games packed into one,” he said. “You cannot stay the same. You either get better or you get worse, so we’re going to learn from every opportunity we have. This was a great one to learn from.”
Brookville will travel to Twin Valley South on Monday.