Crestview’s Isaiah Simerman attacks the basket during the fourth quarter of the Knights’ 69-29 win over Fort Jennings on Friday night in Van Wert. Simerman scored six points for Crestview, which advances to the district semi-finals on Tuesday at Elida. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
Crestview’s Isaiah Simerman attacks the basket during the fourth quarter of the Knights’ 69-29 win over Fort Jennings on Friday night in Van Wert. Simerman scored six points for Crestview, which advances to the district semi-finals on Tuesday at Elida. (Times Bulletin/Tina Eley)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT — It’s been a difficult first season for head coach Keith Utendorf and his Fort Jennings Musketeers. After a three-win regular season, the Musketeers were able to upset Temple Christian in the opening round of sectional play on Tuesday night in Van Wert.
All that 48-44 win did for Fort Jennings, however, was earn them a date with the number one team in the state in Division IV, the undefeated Crestview Knights. In a game that was never close, Crestview rolled to a 69-29 win and a sectional championship.
An overwhelming favorite coming in, Crestview asserted themselves early on both sides of the ball. Senior Damian Helm knocked away a long in-bounds pass, then knocked down a 3-pointer, getting the pass from classmate Cam Etzler. It was just the beginning for Helm.
On the next Fort Jennings possession, Helm came away with another steal, this one he took all the way to the rim himself, drawing contact on the way in and converting a three-point play. Another steal, this one by Etzler, resulted in another Crestview bucket, and two minutes into the game, the Musketeers were forced to use a timeout.

Things didn’t get better.
The Knights would push their lead out to 13-0 on a put-back by Helm and three points from Preston Zaleski, before the Musketeers finally broke through a Mark Metzger drive and score with 4:12 to play in the first.
By that point in the contest, Crestview’s full-court pressure defense had already forced eight turnovers.
“I thought we had good purpose on the defensive end,” noted Crestview head coach Jeremy Best. “We wanted to get up and down and force them into some quick-change situations and not let them get comfortable, and I thought we came out and set that tone right away. I liked our energy, defensively.”
By the times the opening period came to a close, Helm had converted another three-point play and the Knights got a pair of 3-pointers from reserve guard Mitchell Rickard. The Knights jumped ahead 19-2 and closed the quarter with a 26-4 advantage on the scoreboard.
The Musketeers were held to 2-for-7 shooting in the period with 13 turnovers. Crestview was 9-for-15 overall, including 3-for-7 from long range.
“That’s number one on the list of things we need to take care of,” said the senior Etzler of his team’s defensive pressure. Etzler finished the game with seven steals. “Defense is always number one and then the offense will take care of itself. Our best defense turns into our best offense. It’s just a good transition for us.”
Steals by Helm and Etzler opened the second quarter, with Helm converting both into layups at the other end. After Connor Wallenhorst scored inside for Fort Jennings, Helm’s layup made it 32-6, Crestview, with just under six minutes to go in the first half.
It was at about that time that both teams started substituting liberally, going deep into their respective benches.
“(Our depth) is something we’ve developed through the year,” Best added. “We know we’re going to need those guys in crunch time of some games and games that are are little more situational or games that are more half-court oriented, because at tournament time, that’s going to happen. We’re pleased with what those guys did.”
Back-to-back hoops from Austin Kehres got the Fort Jennings crowd to its feet, and, though the game was never close, the Musketeers student sections remained vocal in its support of the team.
“I appreciate everything,” Utendorf said of the support of the Fort Jennings crowd despite the lopsided score. “It’s not been an easy year for any of us, but to have the fans come out and support us like that is important for us going forward. We know that we have a community that’s going to support us as we get to where we want to be.”
A baseline drive by Isaiah Simerman and another three from Rickard gave the Knights a 27-point lead, which grew to as many as 30 before Wallenhorst’s 17-footer made it 41-13 at halftime.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, as threes by Helm and Rickard, along with six points from Connor Lautzenheiser, made it a 62-24 score after three. In the final period, the game was played between two reserve squads, with Brock Rolston picking up five points for the Knights.
Though Crestview’s team enjoyed the occasion while cutting down the nets following the game, moments later, the Knights had already begun looking ahead to the districts.
“We played a lot of guys throughout the game, but you never know when you’re going to need guys,” Best noted. “It was good to see us play with a lot of energy. It’s just one step in the right direction and we’ll get ready to prepare for our next opponent.”
“We’re looking forward to the district semis,” Etzler added. “We just have to take it one game at a time. Right now we’re 1-0 in the new season, so that’s all that counts.”
For the Musketeers, who finish a 4-20 campaign, Utendorf found value in getting an up-close look at Crestview.
“We’re mostly comprised of underclassmen, and, I think it’s a great learning experience for us,” Utendorf said. “”It’s a great vision, to look across (the court at Crestview) and see that that’s what we want to do, that’s who we want to become.”
“Those kids over at Crestview have put in the time, put in the hard work in the summers and in the offseason. There’s a reason why they’re that good,” Utendorf added. “I think that’s a good example for our kids to look to and aspire to going forward.”
Crestview (23-0) will be back in action on Tuesday night, playing the 6:15 p.m. game at Elida High School. The Knights will collide with Northwest Conference rival Columbus Grove in the district semi-finals. The Bulldogs pushed Crestview to overtime before falling at Ray Etzler Gymnasium, 55-48 on February 21.
Presale tickets are available for the district semifinal game. Tickets coast $6 for adults and $4 for students and are being sold Monday and Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. until 3:20 p.m. each day and Monday evening from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
All tickets at the door are $6. Crestview receives a 20 percent share of all presale tickets sold.
Score by quarters
Fort Jennings 4 9 11 5- 29
Crestview   26 15 21 7- 69
Fort Jennings (29)
Von Sossan 4, Wallenhorst 6, Metzger 5, Wittler 4, Kehres 7, Berelsman 0, Sickels 0, German 3, Neidert 0, T. Ricker 0, Maag 0, K. Ricker 0, Finn 0, Luebrecht 0
Crestview (69)
Zaleski 6, Etzler 6, Co. Lautzenheiser 8, Helm 20, Bolenbaugh 4, Simerman 6, Rickard 12, Jones 2, Rolsten 5, Mefferd 0, Ca. Lautzenheiser 0, Van Cleave 0, Owens 0