Plenty of people like to say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, but how you start can be very important.
The Olentangy Braves set a tone with their first quarter start, which helped them build enough confidence down the stretch to pull out a 48-44 non-league victory over the Orange Pioneers Tuesday night at Olentangy High School.
Olentangy (8-8) opened the game with a 17-4 run in the first five minutes, scoring on eight of their first 10 possessions, while Orange (11-4) had trouble getting the ball to fall.
“We’ll take that start every time,” Kelly said. “(Assistant) Coach (Mike) Moran told me after warm-ups, ‘We’re flat. I’m not sure we’re going to have it tonight,’ but I told him, “We have no choice, we’ve got to have it.’ The kids were a little up-tight and so anxious to get started, so for them to come out like they did says a lot about those guys.”
“Give them credit,” Betz said. “They were very well-prepared. We didn’t get a couple shots when we needed to. We typically play better defense and get a couple stops in a row, but tonight we never did that. That’s a credit to them. They made shots when they had to and we couldn’t string any together.”
Olentangy led 18-8 after one, but Orange battled hard the rest of the way, especially in the second quarter, nearly reversing the Braves’ start in the first quarter. The Pioneers outscored Olentangy 13-6 in the quarter, including a 13-2 run in a span of just over four and a half minutes, cutting the halftime deficit to three points, 24-21.
But when the Braves needed something, it usually came from guard Ryan Shaffer. The senior had 12 points in the first half, including the Braves’ six points in the second quarter, helping hold off the Pioneers.
“Ryan played like that all summer long,” Kelly said. “Obviously we’re going against a great defense in our league every night, so it’s hard for him to shake loose, but he’s a player and he did a great job tonight.”
Orange would take its first lead of the game in the third quarter, when junior post Tyler Dillard scored on a catch-and-shoot in the lane off a rebound to put the Pioneers up 27-26, but the Braves rallied back, scoring the next eight points, four coming on a three-pointer and free throw from senior forward Jordan Gingery.
Orange would fight back to within three points at the end of the period. The Pioneers tied the game twice early in the fourth quarter on three balls by senior Matt Kurelic and junior Nick Deitsch, and took the lead again, 40-39, on yet another three from Deitsch with 4:54 left in the game.
Each time, however, Olentangy had an answer. Gingery dropped in a three following a Brave time out, and Orange’s Dillard and Olentangy’s Gingery hit a free throw a piece, keeping the Braves’ lead at two 43-41.
Orange tied the game again when senior post Andy Bosley hit a jumper in the lane, but on the ensuing possession, Shaffer sprinted into the lane past his defender and hit a running layup with 2:17 left, putting Olentangy up for good.
“That’s a tough layup to make under the circumstances going as fast as he was, but he made it,” Kelly said. “What a beautiful lay-in.”
“We didn’t have many turnovers in the second half and we got the shots we wanted,” Betz said. “Andy got the ball in the lane and Nick and Matt made some threes, but it goes back to the defense. It all goes back to getting stops, and if you don’t get them, you’re not going to win.”
Shaffer topped all scorers with 16 points, senior post Stephen Walczak added 12 points, Gingery finished with 11 and junior guard Erik Brandt closed with nine, the only four Olentangy players to score in the game.
Bosley led the Pioneers with 14 points while Deitsch added 11, including a game-high three three-pointers. Kurelic finished with eight points on the night, and Dillard, filling in for injured post Declan Feery, had seven points.