BLANCHESTER — With a tough loss to Western Brown still fresh in their minds, Wilmington found its rhythm Saturday night with a 72-66 victory over Blanchester.
Closer to full strength than at any point in the season, Wilmington also sent a message loud and clear to the rest of the SBC American Division.
“We executed better than we have all year,” said WHS head coach Matt Kramer, who picked up his 200th career coaching victory. “This was a big win for us. This is a top-20 win in my career because of how bad we needed something good to happen.”
It was a highly-entertaining affair that turned into a showdown between Wilmington senior Matt Butcher and Blanchester senior Brayden Sipple. Sipple ended up edging Butcher in points, 40-32, but it was Butcher’s team that ended up with the victory.
Wilmington (3-6) had four straight scoring trips end in three-point field goals late in the third and early in the fourth. Three of those were Butcher triples. It turned a three-point deficit into a 53-49 lead.
“We expected back-to-back nights of physical games,” BHS head coach Adam Weber said. “I was satisfied with our effort (against Aiken) but disappointed with our effort against Wilmington. I’m not talking about physical effort. Three straight possessions we don’t locate Butcher, and he knocks down the shots. It’s mental effort.”
Many of those threes came after excellent offensive sets from the Hurricane. Ball movement was excellent and set plays resulted in scores, Kramer said.
“We just focused on moving the ball and our bodies and dribbling less,” Kramer said. “We continued to play fast, up and down the floor, but be smart when we didn’t have something in transition, to get into it and run some things.”
That stretch led into an 8-2 Wilmington run. Wilmington led 58-51 with 4:50 remaining. Blanchester never got its deficit down to a one-possession game the rest of the way.
In addition to his 32 points, Butcher also had four rebounds.
“Matt Butcher is a great player,” Kramer said. “He’s gotten off to a tough start this year, When we don’t play well, he’s the guy that takes it on his shoulders. He’s the guy that has to carry it. For the first time, his teammates around him were all connected. When that happens, he gets the ball in his sweet spot.”
Sipple finished with 40 points and 14 rebounds. He is three points shy of 2,200 for his career. He would be the 29th boys basketball player in OHSAA history to have at least 2,200 points.
“We had a chance to make a statement, on the road, in a gym against a kid who is one of the best players in the history of this county,” Kramer said. “He’s a fantastic player. He’s one of the rare kids that you can enjoy him while he’s stomping you. He is so smooth. I hope he goes on to have a great career in college.”
Both teams shot the ball well and took care of the ball. Wilmington shot 48 percent (24 of 50) while Blanchester shot 46.4 percent (26/56). Wilmington had just nine turnovers while Blanchester had 12.
“This was two local teams that know each other and spend time in the same areas,” Weber said. “Aiken was more of an emotion game, this one was an attitude game. Wilmington’s attitude as far as execution was better.”
As was the case when Blanchester played Aiken on Friday, Wilmington decided to double-team Sipple late to force other Wildcats to come up with big shots.
“The scouting report that Luke Roy and Todd Cook put together, and the defensive instruction they gave our guys was key to this win,” Kramer said.
Kramer also mentioned the challenges the team has faced, with players missing time and even Kramer himself facing quarantine during the season.
“In defense of the guys in this locker room and our coaching staff, this is one of the first times we’ve been close to whole, all year long, for three practices in a row,” Kramer said. “I made a comment last game that … when I was out, things got loose.
“That’s in no way directed at any player or any coach. It came off like it was. My coaches are good friends, good men and good coaches. My point to that was when you’re the head coach, it’s your language. They’re trying to lead a new team speaking my language they don’t fully know yet.”
Blanchester (7-3) is set to return to National Division play, but they will have to wait until Friday. Tuesday’s game against Williamsburg has been postponed due to COVID. Friday, the Wildcats are set to go to Georgetown. Weber hopes the lessons learned in two tough non-league games will carry over to league play.
“Losing can be the best teacher,” Weber said. “That was our message after the game. When you play opponents you rarely see, battle them and almost win, that does help you when you move back to play familiar opponents. I hope that’s the biggest benefit from both losses.”
Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021
At Blanchester High School
Wilmington 72, Blanchester 66
(72) WILMINGTON (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Matt Butcher 12-7-1-32, Brandon Glass 1-0-0-2, Kellen Baltazar 2-1-1-6, Brady Vilvens 6-2-2-16, Cole Bernhardt 3-0-0-6, Luke Blessing 2-2-4-10. TOTALS 26-12-8-72.
(66) BLANCHESTER (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Brison Lucas 2-1-0-5, Bryce Highlander 2-2-2-8, Hunter Hartmann 2-1-1-6, Nolan Gray 1-1-0-3, Brayden Sipple 16-4-4-40, Logan Heitzman 1-0-2-4. TOTALS 24-9-9-66.
FIELD GOALS: W 26/56 (Butcher 12/20, Vilvens 6/8); B 24/50 (Sipple 16/29)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: W 12/37 (Butcher 7/15); B 9/24 (Sipple 4/10)
FREE THROWS: W 8/15 (Blessing 4/5); B 9/16
REBOUNDS: W 30 (Bernhardt 10, Blessing 7, Butcher 6); B 34 (Sipple 14, Hartmann 4)
ASSISTS: W 16 (Brown, Jr. 3, Baltazar 3); B 8
STEALS: W 4; B 4
BLOCKED SHOTS: W 3; B 3 (Sipple 2)
TURNOVERS: W 9; B 12
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports