Raiders, Knights have been here before
Thursday, March 13, 2014 12:00 AM
By John Parent
Wayne Trace senior Colby Speice was inches away from draining a 3-pointer that would have beaten Crestview early in the season. The Raiders hope history repeats itself 23 years after Wayne Trace beat Crestview en route to a state title. (TB file photo)
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
Two schools that are separated by a mere 19 miles will travel a combined 156 miles to play a basketball game.
Of course, this isn’t just any game. This game, to be played on Friday night on the campus of Bowling Green State University, is for a Division IV regional championship.
Crestview (26-0) comes in as the top-ranked team in the state, having just dispatched a much taller opponent in Ottawa Hills. Wayne Trace (23-3) is a team playing its best basketball of the year over the past few games, with brothers Ethan and Corbin Linder combining for 62 points in Tuesday night’s regional semi-final victory over Buckeye Central.
The game should, by all rights, be played at the spacious home of the Cougars at Van Wert High School, but with a trip to Columbus on the line, I’m sure no one in the greater Convoy or Haviland areas will mind taking a bit of a drive to see the renewal of what has been one of the better rivalries in the region, in any sport.
The two schools have faced-off 51 times entering Friday night, with Crestview holding a 26-25 edge thanks to two regular-season victories this year. The Raiders had a chance to hand Crestview its first loss of the campaign when they hosted the Knights in Paulding County, but fell short by a 50-48 margin when Colby Speice’s last-second 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer.
Two months later, in Convoy, it was a different story entirely. The Raiders stayed close early, but Crestview eventually ran roughshod over Wayne Trace, capturing a 70-40 blowout win.
Those games were two of the Raiders’ four lowest-scoring contests all season. Corbin Linder, who averages just over 15 points per game this year, scored 19 in the first meeting, but was held to just nine (on 3-for-11 shooting) in the second contest. Younger brother Ethan scored only two in the December meeting and had 10 when the teams met in Convoy.
In both games, Wayne Trace had limited success in shooting the basketball, hitting only 31 percent in February after shooting 37 percent against the Knights in December.
Crestview has, on paper, more weapons on offense. They have the better defense, though if the brothers Linder shoot the way they did against Buckeye Central, Wayne Trace can beat anybody.
This isn’t the first time that Crestview and Wayne Trace have found themselves in a situation like this one. Back in 1991, the schools met along the tournament trail when both were paying in Division III. Crestview, with Ray Etzler coaching and Doug Etzler averaging 22 points per game, claimed wins in each of two regular-season match-ups with Al Welch’s Wayne Trace squad, winning 64-57 in the first meeting and then 66-49 during play in the Holiday Tournament.
Come tournament time, however, it was the Raiders who had the better of things.
Just as they do this year, Wayne Trace entered that game awith three losses — two of which came to the Knights. The Raiders wound up winning a district final game played at Ohio Northern over Crestview by an impressive 58-40 score. The win was a key step in a Raiders tournament run that eventually ended with a state championship.
The Knights, for the all the success and tradition of their program, still do not have a state championship in boys basketball. If they aim to change that, a third win over Wayne Trace is mandatory, but it won’t be easy.
There is an old adage that says it’s hard to beat a good team three times in one season. Crestview couldn’t do it in 1991, and the Elida Bulldogs found out last weekend with a third-time’s-the-charm loss to a bitter rival, Bath, in the district finals.
What does a game that happened five-to-seven years before any of the kids on these two teams were born have to do with the game to be played on Friday night? Probably nothing. But don’t be fooled by the first two meetings between Crestview and Wayne Trace this season.
With scorers like the Linders, an improved defense, and history on their side, the Raiders have more than a puncher’s chance in the regional finals.