Defensive-minded Oberlin Phoenix fly into title game

MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL Oberlin’s Noland Isom, left, goes up for a layup against Brookside during the regular season.

After being a part of many great Oberlin boys’ basketball teams in the 1980s, coach Kurt Russell will try to lead his team to a district championship of their own as the Phoenix face off against Apple Creek Waynedale tonight at 7 p.m. at Wooster High School in the Division III Wooster District Final.

Oberlin, which won its last district title in 2001, has relied heavily on its stout defense as it has held its two tournament opponents — Orrville and Elyria Catholic — to 43 and 46 points, respectively, to reach the district championship. The most important part of the Phoenix’s defense, Russell said, is the chemistry his players have with each other.

“We practice defense probably two hours out of the day,” Russell said. “We concentrate on just helping each other. We know that sometimes it’s difficult manning up on a guy. But we tell our kids that it’s just not you against the guy. It’s always a team against the other opponent. So we really try just helping each other. But that comes with the idea of you have to like one another. I have to like you enough to help you. That’s what the kids are buying into.”

The Phoenix also have a very talented group of seniors that have helped resurrect the program from a three-win team as freshmen into a Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division championship last season, which was the school’s first conference title since 2001. With a win tonight, the senior class led by Jason Moore, Marcus Bailey and Noland Isom has a chance to leave a legacy few senior classes at the school have had since the 1980s.

“Since their freshman year, they have steadily improved each and every year, winning double-digit games their sophomore, junior and senior years,” Russell said. “This will mean so much to them. That’s why I’m really looking forward to this game to see how well they play. You wish them the best and I think the best is a district championship at this moment.”

Tonight’s challenge presents an upset-minded Waynedale team, led by seniors Matt Kick and Kevin Short, that defeated top-seeded Norwayne 44-38 on Tuesday to reach the district final. Even though none of the Golden Bears are taller than 6-foot-2, Russell is fully aware that his team will be in for a tough game.

“They are very disciplined,” Russell said. “They run a flex offense, and they really lull you to sleep. So they try to catch you off guard where they break down your defense.

“We worry about the guard Short. He’s aggressive, he’s able to take you off the dribble. Even though their size is not a big concern, it’s the way they play. They’re very disciplined, they work hard, they have this attitude of winning, and I think they’re going to bring a lot of energy to the game.”

Pirates after a repeat

For three quarters against Bowling Green on Wednesday, it looked like a repeat of the Perkins Pirates’ district championship was not meant to be. They responded like champions do in the fourth quarter, scoring seven unanswered points to punch their ticket to Saturday’s district final in a 60-51 win.

Junior Nic Williams had a spectacular night with 25 points and 17 rebounds to lead the way for Perkins. Brandon Smith added 17 more as the Pirates will play Toledo Scott on Saturday for a shot at a second-straight district title. The Pirates won their first in school history last season when they defeated Defiance 72-52.

Scott defeated Tontogany Otsego 67-40 on Wednesday to reach the district final.

Champions fall

Two defending district champions saw their seasons end one game short of being able to reclaim their crowns as Elyria and Norwalk each fell on Thursday night.

The Pioneers fell behind Westlake very quickly and could not catch up as the Demons won 70-55, ending the great high school career of Elyria guard Kody Bender and the rest of the Elyria seniors. Westlake will get its third crack at Brecksville on Saturday night in the district final after losing to the Bees twice earlier in the season.

Norwalk fell victim to a late run by Mansfield Senior and lost to the Tygers 44-42 in the Bowling Green District Semifinal. For the second straight season, the Truckers end the year with a record of 23-1.

Last Updated: 3/7/2013 11:33:47 PM EST

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