BY JOHN PARENT
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
BOWLING GREEN — Undefeated and top-ranked Crestview took an early lead on local rival Wayne Trace in Friday night’s Division IV regional final played at Bowling Green State University.
Jumping out to a 16-2 start, Crestview didn’t allow a Wayne Trace field goal until 6:40 to play in the second quarter. What could have turned into a blowout, however, became a classic battle between two familiar opponents, with the Knights pulling away late for a 44-34 win.
Crestview (27-0) moves on to face Tri-Village in the state semi-final in Columbus Thursday night. Wayne Trace sees its season come to a close at 23-4. Three of those losses came to Crestview.
The Knights identified the importance making life difficult for the Raiders’ top two weapons, Ethan and Corbin Linder.
With Preston Zaleski drawing primary responsibility on Ethan, with frequent double-team help, the Raiders were forced to move their freshman off the ball, creating an uncomfortable offense.
“They double-teamed Ethan, which we hadn’t seen before,” said Raider head coach Jim Linder. “That took us out of our sets and moved him to a two spot, which he wasn’t really used to. It was good coaching by them.”
Zaleski doesn’t score much for the Knights, but his defense was a difference-maker in this game. Despite standing just 5-foot-10, Zaleski blocked three shots in the first half as the brothers Linder were held to 2-for-8 shooting and seven points.
“I can jump pretty high,” Zaleski joked after the game. “Defense is about being in the right position. Then it’s just get up and block the shot.”
Though the Knights struggled from the field themselves, Crestview held a 23-14 lead at the break.
“Getting off to a good start tonight was huge for us,” noted Crestview head coach Jeremy Best, who is taking his second Knights team to state. “I thought we set the tone early on the defensive end. Again, tonight it was just, defensively, lock-down mode. We did a fabulous job of communicating on defense.”
In the third, Wayne Trace used its defense to spark a comeback.
After Ethan Linder sank his first field goal, a 12-footer on the baseline, the Raiders forced a Crestview turnover and the younger Linder got free under the hoop. Drawing contact from Crestview center Tyson Bolenbaugh, Linder threw up a circus shot that found its way through the rim. After converting the free throw, Linder had pulled the Raiders to within six.
“The kids played hard,” noted Raider head coach Jim Linder. “I am proud of our kids. They didn’t quit and they could’ve quit.”
On the next trip, senior Devin Wenzlick came up with a blocked shot on Damian Helm and finished on the other end, drawing Wayne Trace to within four.
Crestview would respond
“We reacted pretty well,” said Best of his team’s response to the Wayne Trace run. “We called a timeout and chewed them a little bit about getting better at a few things, and we responded, and we’ve done that all year.”
“We’ve been in several tight games. We’ve been there and we’ve been fortunate to come out on top. I think, our ability to rally around each other and believe in each other and the relationships that these guys have with each other really helps.”
Though the Knights struggled to find the range from the outside, Helm finally got a 3-pointer to drop early in the fourth quarter, giving Crestview a 33-23 lead. Though the Raiders were able to get back to within seven, Zaleski got a fingertip on a Corbin Linder 3-point try with three minutes to play and, just over a minute later, the Knights were able to seal the game.
With 1:42 on the clock, Helm dribbled through a desperate Wayne Trace defense and found Bolenbaugh breaking to the hoop. The 6-foot-5 senior took it up strong, drew the foul and celebrated from his backside on the floor as his shot fell through the hoop. The free throw gave the Knights a 12-point cushion.
“It was incredible,” Bolenbaugh said. “I was on the ground and just looked up to see it drop and emotions flooded me. It was crazy out there.”
As has been the case throughout the season, and at each stop on this tournament run, the Crestview defense was the story. Wayne Trace was held to 10-for-37 shooting (27 percent) for the game and just 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
“Defense is the number one thing,” Etzler noted. “We know what they bring to the table, but they are two great players. Ethan being a freshman, really stepped into some big shoes this year. They really made it tough on us. I know I’m pretty tired from chasing them (the Linders) around."
Wayne Trace caused difficult shots for the Knights, but couldn’t force turnovers, as Crestview coughed it up only eight times in the game. In the second half, Bolenbaugh and Helm began to find success inside, with each scoring eight points after the break.
“I don’t know that we were winning that battle (physically) through the game, but I thought we responded as we went through. Both teams expended a bunch of energy; there were some tired boys out there.”
“If we’re hitting our outside shots, which we weren’t tonight, Coach emphasized at halftime to get it down low and start attacking,” explained Helm after the win. “In the first half, we weren’t getting our shots to fall. We tried to work inside-out more in the second half, and I think that got us going a little bit.”
“Their two post players, Helm and Bolenbaugh, really hurt us inside,” Linder conceded.
The Linder brothers, who had combined for 62 points in Tuesday night’s regional semi-final win, were held to a total of 19 Friday night on 6-of-22 shooting.
“We had to shut (Ethan Linder) down,” said Zaleski, who had four points, three blocks and two steals on the night. “He starts their offense, so we had to limit his touches.”
A senior-laden team, Crestview never looked rattled, even when the game got tight.
“These guys are pretty even-keeled,” added Best. “They were pretty loose today, they had a pretty good sense of composure about themselves, and they knew what was at stake.”
The Knights will play in the second game Thursday night. Approximate tip-off time is 8:30 p.m.
Score by quarters
Crestview 13 10 6 15- 44
Wayne Trace 2 12 9 11- 34
Preston Zaleski 3, Cam Etzler 6, Damian Helm 16, Connor Lautzenheiser 5, Tyson Bolenbaugh 13, Isaiah Simerman 0, Mitchell Rickard 0, Eli Jones 0
Wayne Trace (34)
Ethan Linder 9, Colby Speice 4, Jake Arend 4, Corbin Linder 10, Devin Wenzlick 7, Gabe Wobler 0, Luke Miller 0, David Sinn 0, T.J. Blackmore 0