Wauseon is in the midst of its best boys basketball era in school history, and the Indians’ next test on the tournament trail will be a difficult one at 8 p.m. Thursday at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
Wauseon coach Chad Burt led the Indians to the state championship game last year and has the squad unbeaten into the regional semifinals this year.
Ninth-year coach Chad Burt’s top-ranked Indians (25-0), who finished 27-2 as state runners-up a year ago, will take on Lexington (21-5) in a Division II regional semifinal.
And if Wauseon manages to advance to Saturday’s 2 p.m. regional final at the Stroh Center, the Indians could be part of a showdown between Ohio’s top two D-II teams. Thursday’s 6:15 p.m. semifinal pits second-ranked Columbus Beechcroft (25-1) against Bay Village Bay (19-6).
But Burt (177-61), his staff of mostly Wauseon graduates, and the Tribe’s talented, battle-tested roster will be living in the minute on Thursday and looking no further than Lexington’s Minutemen.
“Lexington is very physical at both ends of the floor,” Burt said. “They are very good on the offensive boards. They have an unbelievable big man in Cade Stover that plays all over the floor and is our toughest matchup of the year so far. They get very good play from their wings and have solid guard play.”
Stover, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, is also regarded as one of the state’s top college football prospects and has received recruiting interest from Ohio State.
On the basketball court, he earned first-team all-district honors after averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds during the regular season. Lexington’s other top players include 6-2 junior guards Ben Vore (10.0 points) and Kyle Johnston (9.0 points).
Wauseon’s ability to maintain focus, a stringent commitment to defense, and a run of talented players advancing through a solid program built by Burt and his staff are the primary reasons the Indians have gone 72-6 during the last three seasons and 109-19 during the past five.
Wauseon’s coach believes his players have done a solid job of tuning out the potential distraction of being unbeaten and ranked No. 1.
“We are doing a great job of playing one game at a time,” Burt said. “We have seven seniors that have been doing a great job of leading, and we have been focused at practice. I think the pressure is on all teams and all players when you get to this level, regardless of the rankings.”
Wauseon has won back-to-back outright Northwest Ohio Athletic League titles and shared the league crown with Archbold the previous two seasons.
Wauseon center Austin Rotroff is the district player of the year and is headed to Duquesne University next season.
For three seasons, the player at the center of the Indians’ success has been 6-foot-9 post player Austin Rotroff, who will play at Duquesne University for coach Keith Dambrot in Pittsburgh next year.
Dambrot, the three-time Mid-American Conference coach of the year during his highly successful run at Akron, preceded that time with a three-year stint as head coach at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, including 2000 and 2001 Ohio Division III state championships during LeBron James’ first two high school seasons with the Irish.
Rotroff, who chose Duquesne because of Dambrot’s success working with post players, is the Northwest Ohio D-II district player of the year. He averages 14.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocked shots per game.
Rotroff is well-complemented by returning senior starters Brooks Gype (6-3 wing, 8.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists) and Owen Newlove (6-4 forward, 5.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists).
Rounding out the starting five are juniors Levi Seiler (6-3 wing, 9.4 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Trent Armstrong (5-11 guard, 9.5 points, 3.4 assists).
Their collective experience from last year’s tourney run has been beneficial this season.
“Every year is new with players playing different roles,” Burt said. “That being said, we played in a lot of big tournament games in some big venues. Hopefully this serves us well as the tournament trail progresses.”
In Burt’s system, Wauseon hangs its hat on stopping the opposition first, then creating its own offense with an efficient combination of ball movement and careful shot selection.
This has enabled the Indians to outscore foes 59.4 to 36.3 per game. Through 25 games, only two teams have reached 50 points against them — 21-3 NWOAL runner-up and rival Archbold (in 60-54 and 67-56 losses) during the regular season, then Lima Shawnee (69-52) in last Saturday’s district final.
Wauseon beat Celina (51-19) in sectional play and Van Wert (51-41) in the district semis.
“We have been solid at the defensive end so far,” Burt said. “We have rebounded the ball well. We have been playing at a good speed and playing with confidence.
“Rebounding will be critical for both teams [Thursday]. Both teams are good on the offensive glass, so this will be critical. They are a very good half court team that executes well. The team that executes the best, maximizes possessions, and limits turnovers will be in great shape.”
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