Youth can be a benefit in other areas of life, but it usually makes basketball a bit tough.
Olentangy and Orange both have little experience coming back this season, but the Braves used what experience they had to pull out a 59-48 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division win over the Pioneers Friday at Orange High School.
“We obviously have a bunch of very young players, but they were hustling and playing great defense in the first half,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “I told them at the half the defense and rebounding kept us in the game, and if we play as well as we can offensively, we would be fine in the second half. That’s truly the way I felt.”
“We’ve only played two games, but still we’re a young team,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “That’s not an excuse, and that can’t be an excuse. We need to stay together and not get discouraged. We need to stay patient and continue to get better.
Olentangy (2-1, 1-0 OCC Capital) did the bulk of its work in the second half after a slow start. Orange (0-2, 0-1) held five-point leads twice in the first quarter and led by four after one, then held a three-point lead much of the second period as the Braves’ shots had trouble finding the rim.
“We didn’t have great shot selection in the first half,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a bunch of young guys trying to step up on the big stage in a big game.”
But midway through the fourth quarter, Olentangy used an 18-4 run over a span of just under three and a half minutes to take control for good.
“They scored on 10 of their last 14 possessions,” Calo said. “You’re not going to win a basketball game when your opponent does that unless you’re up by 40, and we weren’t. We have to get stops in the fourth quarter.”
The Braves opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 26-20 advantage two minutes in, but the Pioneers made their own charge after that, scoring seven of the next nine points and cutting the Braves’ lead back to one, 28-27.
Olentangy pushed the lead back to six with a minute left on buckets from junior Ryan Sieve and sophomore Obi Anunike and a three-pointer from junior Matt Forsythe, but Pioneer sophomore Grant Gossard hit the last bucket of the third quarter and the first field goal of the fourth, and sophomore Haydn Audsley hit a layup off a Gossard pass to tie the score a 35-all with 7:23 left in the game.
Olentangy sophomore Seth O’Neal broke the tie shortly after that, but Ausdley and Gossard again scored on back-to-back possessions to give Orange a 39-37 lead — one that proved short-lived.
The Braves scored the next nine points of the game, with junior Jimmy Gundling scoring the first six, giving Olentangy a 46-39 lead, and after a pair of Orange free throws, Gundling scored the next seven Olentangy points, helping the Braves to a 55-44 lead with just under a minute left. Gundling finished the night with a game-high 24 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter.
“Jimmy is an outstanding player, and he was like that all summer,” Kelly said. “He probably averaged 20 points a game, and we played a lot of games this summer. He’s a good player, and he has some good teammates around him who are not afraid to get him the ball. They know what he can do, and if teams collapse on him, the other guys can knock down shots.”
“He’s a good player and we were aware of that before the game,” Calo said. “He did some very nice things against us last year as a sophomore, but we did a pretty good job of containing him until the fourth quarter. As a team, we did a good job forming walls on him, but in the fourth quarter, they came alive.”
Orange showed its toughness down the stretch, but after just two games, Calo is confident his team’s best is yet to come.
“We tell our kids our goal is to play our best basketball by the end of the year,” Calo said. “That can absolutely happen. Working hard and continuing to get better with every game is the key, and our kids can definitely make that happen.”
Sieve added nine points for Olentangy while sophomore Christian Mazzeo followed with eight points. O’Neal and sophomores Brandon Mazzeo and Derrick Wyche chipped in four points apiece.
Audsley led the way for the Pioneers with 14 points while Gossard and freshman Jay Joseph added nine points each. Senior Dave Dawson also had eight points for Orange.