Crestview’s perimeter defense, led by Preston Zaleski (2) and Cam Etzler (5), shown here creating a steal against Paulding, will face a dynamic Tri-Village attack on Thursday night in Columbus. (TB file photo)
Crestview’s perimeter defense, led by Preston Zaleski (2) and Cam Etzler (5), shown here creating a steal against Paulding, will face a dynamic Tri-Village attack on Thursday night in Columbus. (TB file photo)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
sports@timesbulletin.com
CONVOY — Immovable object versus irresistible force.
When the top-ranked and undefeated Crestview Knights lock horns with the 26-1 and second-ranked Tri-Village Patriots on Thursday night in a Division IV state semi-final contest, that’s how the game may play out.
Crestview, which holds opponents to a miserable 37 percent shooting on the season and allows just 41 points per game, faces a Tri-Village team that averages 73 points per game and has allowed just 43 point per night to its opponents.
The Knights’ suffocating defense can expect to hold Tri-Village below its season scoring average, but Crestview’s perimeter scoring must improve if they plan to advance to the state title game. Crestview shot just 3-for-16 from 3-point range in Friday night’s win over Wayne Trace, but the Knights have plenty of shooters.


Connor Lautzenheiser (33 percent 3-point field goals), Damian Helm (43%), Isaiah Simerman (42 %), and Mitchell Rickard (45%) have to be able to hit big shots in the unfamiliar environment of the Schottenstein Center.
The Patriots are not a deep team, typically playing only six players for any significant minutes, but the top-level talent is elite.
Division IV co-Player of the Year Tyler Cook is a beast underneath at 6-foot-6 and 245 lbs. He averages 18.7 points per game and nearly nine boards per night as well. Cook was a first team District 9 selection and has 1165 career points.
In the regional championship game versus Marion Local, Tyler Cook was held to just eight points on 3-for-7 shooting and dealt with foul trouble against a bigger, stronger Flyer front court. Crestview has depth underneath, but senior Tyson Bolenbaugh will have to stay out of foul trouble, something he couldn’t do against the last dominant post player he saw, Ottawa Hills big man R.J. Coil.
While Bolenbaugh can hold his own inside, Eli Jones is likely to see significant minutes on Thursday night if the Knights need reinforcements.
Damion Cook is a 6-foot-5 forward who shoots nearly 65 percent from 2-point range and set a school rebounding record this season, averaging 16.6 points and nearly 12 boards per night. This Cook is a junior and, though he is the team’s third-leading scorer on the season, paced the Patriots with 24 points and six rebounds against Marion Local.
The Knights will likely counter with their own Division IV co-Player of the Year, Helm. Helm averages 15.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Knights, but his 6-foot-4 frame and strong athleticism should make a difficult match-up for the younger Cook, on both ends of the floor.
The most intriguing defensive assignments for Crestview might be those of guards Preston Zaleski and Cam Etzler. Etzler has drawn the task of taking on the opponents’ best offensive weapon as the tournament has worn on, regardless of size of position. In 6-foot-3 guard Colton Linkous, the Patriots have a pure shooter who can get shots off even in traffic.
Facing a similar player last week in Wayne Trace guard Corbin Linder, it was Etzler who was chosen to blanket the scorer and Linder was held to 10 points of 4-of-13 shooting. Linkous might be an upgrade over the Raider junior, however. This season, he has connected on 47.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, including hitting 5-of-8 in the regional final, and averages just a shade under 20 points per contest.
Crestview’s defense has held its opponents this season to a combined 26 percent (102-for-388) from 3-point range this season. Linkous, alone, has made 90 3-pointers this year.
Tri-Village is able to score so many points, in large part, due to its sophomore point guard Tyler VanWinkle. The 5-foot-8 floor general set a school record with 202 assists this season (7.5 per game) and is counted upon to get the Patriots into their offense on each trip up the floor.
As he did last week versus Wayne Trace, junior Preston Zaleski is likely to get the assignment as Crestview’s primary on-ball defender. In the regional finals, Zaleski hounded Ethan Linder and frequently got double-team help from Lautzenheiser to get Linder off the ball. That strategy may not work as well this time around, as the Patriots has scorers at other positions that the Knights won’t want to leave open.
If Zaleski can have the same kind of defensive impact against VanWinkle as he did versus Ethan Linder, the Knights will be able to force uncomfortable possessions by the Patriots, getting them out of their normal spots on the floor and making things easier for the rest of the Crestview defenders.
Crestview has stared down some of the better perimeter-oriented teams in the region with wins over Lima Central Catholic, Wayne Trace and Spencerville. They’ve beaten teams with superior size and strength inside in wins over Celina and Ottawa Hills. Now, they face a team with an outstanding blend of scoring from the wing and from the low post. While Tri-Village probably hasn’t seen a team that plays with as much defensive effort and continuity as Crestview does, this game will be, perhaps, the Knights’ toughest defensive challenge of the season.
Of course, with just four teams left vying for a state championship, no one said it would be easy.