Playing without a top player, Northmor was able to jump in front of Pleasant early on in their Monday night Division III boys’ basketball playoff opener.
Unfortunately for the locals, they weren’t able to keep up that pace for the duration. The Spartans would get hot from three-point range in the second quarter to take the lead and would then pull away during the second half for a 54-35 win that ended Northmor’s season at 11-12.
“We had a game plan and had a lot of days to prepare for them,” said head coach Zach Ruth. “We were going to throw something at them that they hadn’t seen. They had a couple players we weren’t going to guard. We kept their top three under their average, but they had other guys step up. It’s tough to come over here and win.”
Competing without junior Blake Miller, who got injured during the team’s regular season finale, the Golden Knights jumped all over the Spartans in the early moments. Trevor Gekler and Hunter Mariotti opened the game with back-to-back baskets to give Northmor an early lead.
After a Pleasant score, Mariotti hit from long range. Logan Randolph then followed with a basket and Mariotti then scored off a steal to put Northmor in front 11-2 with four minutes in the books. While Pleasant was able to recover a bit at the end of the period, getting a three-pointer from Ethan Warner and a put-back from Cole Ambrose, the Golden Knights still led 13-7 after eight minutes.
A basket and free throw from Gage Williams trimmed that margin to three points, but Northmor got buckets from Kooper Keen, making his first varsity start, and Cole Dille to lead 17-10.
Hot shooting from the Spartans quickly erased that lead. Ambrose drained two in a row and Gage Runda added another long-range shot to turn a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead. A bucket from Mariotti tied things at 19 with 3:53 left in the half, but Pleasant got a basket from Nick Kimmel and a free throw from Luke Thomas to take a three-point lead.
Pleasant still was up three at 24-21 going into the half, but they would spend the second half adding to that lead. Warner hit three times from three-point range in the third quarter, as his team’s lead expanded from three points to 10.
Then, in the fourth quarter, after a Gekler basket made it 37-29, the Spartans put the game away with a 10-2 run that staked them to a 16-point lead with under four to go in the contest. The Golden Knights would get back within 13, but could not make a run to catch back up to their opponents.
“Like I told them in there, the chapter of the 2018-19 season comes to an end, but I can’t wait to flip the page and see how 2019-20 goes,” said Ruth.
One reason for that excitement is because his team returns the majority of its production from this year after graduating most everyone from last year’s squad. Another is simply because Ruth feels that from top to bottom, the Golden Knight program is as strong as he can remember.
“From seventh grade through varsity, this season was the biggest improvement I’ve seen,” he said. “Four of five teams were .500 or better. We’ve kind of built a culture where we’re expected to win and that’s awesome.”
In Monday’s game, Mariotti scored 11 pionts to lead the Golden Knights, while Gekler added nine.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS