NEW MADISON — Tri-Village coach Josh Sagester wanted the Patriots to experience a stressful game against a tough opponent prior to tournament time, and he got just that and more on Saturday night against Stivers.
One week before the start of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament, the Tri-Village boys basketball team had to battle to the very end to beat Stivers 71-69 in a game that tested the Patriots’ mental and physical toughness.
“I’d say we played with some toughness, mentally and physically,” Sagester said. “We knew this was going to be a very good game for us going into tournament. Stivers is everything as advertised and then some. It kind of felt like a heavyweight fight. They were throwing punches; we were throwing punches … making plays obviously, making shots. We were able to withstand it, and it was a last-minute stand.”
No actual punches were thrown Saturday night in New Madison although the game did get very physical and emotional. One Stivers player was called for a technical foul, and three Tri-Village fans were ejected.
With all the craziness around them, Sagester said he was very proud of his players and the way they responded.
“You’ve got to stay focused,” he said. “You can’t let outside factors influence how we play. I thought our kids were very levelheaded. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s basketball. It’s not tiddlywinks. There’s going to be some emotion involved, there’s going to be people getting excited, but again we’ve got great support here at Tri-Village, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Tri-Village and Stivers were evenly matched, which was evident early on as neither team led by more than four points in the first quarter. The opening period ended with Stivers leading 19-15.
Stivers’ biggest lead of the game came early in the second quarter as the Tigers make a basket that put them up 21-15.
Tri-Village responded with the trio of Colton Linkous, Damion Cook and Tyler Cook — who combined to score Tri-Village’s first 40 points of the night — leading the Patriots on an 11-0 run to take a 26-21 lead. Tri-Village led by as many as five points in the second quarter and took a 33-30 lead into halftime.
After Tyler Cook recorded his fourth foul of the game early in the third quarter and headed to the bench, Mason McCabe and Tyler VanWinkle joined Linkous and Damion Cook in scoring to help lead the Patriots.
With 2:46 left in the third quarter Tri-Village extended its advantage to 13 points, 50-37, as Linkous drained two free throws following a technical foul on Stivers. The adversity seemed to light a fire in the Stivers players as the Tigers scored the final nine points of the quarter to cut the deficit to four points, 50-46, and set up a tense fourth quarter.
Damion Cook picked up his fourth foul just 19 seconds into the fourth quarter, but he and Tyler Cook were able to play the rest of the game without fouling out.
“They’re mature mentally, able to understand how to play in foul trouble,” Sagester said.
The two Cooks were needed as the Patriot lead never exceeded five points in the fourth quarter. Stivers actually tied the game at 61-61 midway through the period before Tri-Village retook the lead on a 3-pointer by McCabe, who made three treys in the final quarter.
“He’s been shooting it really, really well for us, and obviously he found some creases,” Sagester said. “We found the openings and found him. He was able to step up and make some big plays. Against good teams, you’ve got to make perimeter shots.”
With a 70-65 lead late in the fourth quarter Tri-Village had a chance to put the game away with free throws but missed some to set up a dramatic finish.
With less than 20 seconds left and Tri-Village leading 71-69, Stivers had the ball and attempted the game-winning shot, which missed to preserve the Patriot victory.
“We need some games with some stress on us, and tonight was another game with some stress on us,” Sagester said. “And I think we’re getting better and better handling those situations.”
Damion Cook led Tri-Village with 21 points in the victory while Linkous scored 20, Tyler Cook scored 14, McCabe scored 12, and VanWinkle added four.
Isaiah Williams led Stivers with a game-high 23 points. Also for the Tigers, Robert Caldwell scored 21 points, Roderick Caldwell scored 10, Chazz George scored seven, Cedric Hart scored six, and Daniel Allen scored two.
“It was a phenomenal basketball game if you’re a fan to watch what transpired out here tonight,” Sagester said.
Saturday’s game was the final regular season contest for the Patriots, who clinched a share of the Cross County Conference championship on Friday with a 106-36 win against Newton and a Franklin Monroe loss to Bethel, and the final home game for the team’s two seniors — Tommy Bell and Tyler Cook.
“Tommy Bell is a program kid, been with us all the way, does everything we ask of him and then some,” Sagester said. “Tyler Cook obviously his resume … I don’t know there’s anybody in southwest Ohio that has that resume.”