NEW MADISON – After last year’s disappointing end to the season, Tri-Village is trying to bring its program back to the heights it previously reached.
Tri-Village has advanced to the sweet 16 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament for the fourth time in the past five years. Last year, however, the Patriots lost in the sectional finals – their earliest tournament exit since 2011.
“It hurt our pride a little last year not being able to get back there,” senior Gavin Richards said.
Not being able to make a long tournament run last year has provided motivation that the Patriots still carry with them today.
“It left a nasty taste in our mouth,” senior Trace Couch said. “I didn’t want to go out like that.”
Tri-Village already has erased some of the demons this season, winning sectional and district tournament championships, but the Patriots aren’t ready to end their season quite yet.
“Games are definitely dwindling whether win or lose,” Richards said. “It’s not something you think about. You just go out there, have fun and play, play hard for the love of teammates I’ve grown up with.”
Tri-Village is set to face Cincinnati Christian next in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Trent Arena in Kettering. The winner of that game will advance to play either Fort Loramie or Perry in the regional final on Friday night with a spot in the state final four at stake.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment for this team,” Tri-Village boys basketball coach Josh Sagester said of making it back to the regional tournament. “These are always goals that we set at the beginning of the year, and they don’t always come to fruition.”
Both Richards and fellow senior Jonny Wilson have experience at the state tournament. They were part of both the 2014 and 2015 state final four teams, winning the Division IV state title in 2015.
“We’re definitely looking to those two guys to provide some leadership for us in a lot of facets of what we’re doing,” Sagester said.
Being part of state final four teams helped teach the current seniors what it takes to be a champion.
“That experience my freshman and sophomore year was absolutely amazing,” Wilson said. “You got to experience it from a little behind the scenes action to seeing the guys warm up on the court. It’s really fun. Now I can fully understand what I need to do. Sitting back and watching Colton (Linkous) and Damion (Cook) and Tyler Cook and Tyler VanWinkle and all those guys, I can really help implement (the lessons) in my game in these situations.”
To prepare his team as it makes another push for the state tournament, Coach Sagester has enlisted some of the players who helped Tri-Village reach those great heights such as Tyler Cook, Linkous, Mason McCabe, Kyle Pipenger and VanWinkle.
“We’ve made them some Cincinnati Christian players and some Jackson Center players and tried to mimic some things that they’re going to do,” Sagester said. “Obviously get a chance to see their athleticism and length, and hopefully it will behoove us come game time.”
Along with being pushed by those past greats, Wilson said Tri-Village’s district championship victory against Jackson Center helped make the Patriots better as it forced them to play a style they’re not accustomed to. They now feel better prepared for any opponent they may face.
“They helped us develop our game a little bit,” Wilson said of Jackson Center. “They helped us develop ourselves so we can win at any facet. We come off a Troy Christian win where we’re running up and down the court and scoring a lot, playing a lot in transition and then you come into Jackson Center and you play in the teeth of the defense all night.”
The Patriots, who started the season with a 4-4 record, have found their stride and enter the regional tournament as winners of 15 of their last 18 games.
“I feel like we are playing our best basketball right now coming off of our early struggles early on in the year with all the stuff that happened,” Couch said. “I feel like we’re coming together now.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.