CHILLICOTHE — Wake up the echos is part of a line from the University of Notre Dame fight song.
The McClain Tigers have taken that to heart as they captured a Division II district championship Saturday with a 53-41 win over the Sheridan Generals of Thornville Saturday at Southeastern High School.
It is the first district championship for McClain since 2005, which was Danté Jackson’s sophomore year. It is the third district title for McClain coach Joe B. Stewart.
Sheridan finished its season with a record of 18-7.
McClain (the No. 2 seed in the tournament) improved to 17-3 and will take on the tournament’s No. 1 seed, the Waverly Tigers, Thursday at 8 p.m. in the regional semifinals at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University.
Waverly (21-4) defeated Jackson (11-10), 81-50 on Friday to secure a district championship and a spot in the regional semis at the Convo.
McClain played seven of its 10 seniors in the game.
Kendyll Toney was the game’s leading scorer for McClain with 19 points. Bryson Badgley scored 13 and Braden Wright had 11.
Junior Reed Coconis led Sheridan with 13 points. Senior Blaine Hannah was next with nine points.
A happy, emotional Stewart spoke to the media after the team received their medals, district championship trophy, cut down the nets at both ends of the gym and posed for countless pictures.
“I told my wife after the Washington Court House game, ‘You know, sweetheart, starting where we did, we had no reason to think that we were going to, some day, have moments like this with these guys.’ “And she said, ‘Oh, yes we do,’” Stewart said. “You’ve got a recipe and what’s more, you’re cooking in the home kitchen.
“This was the icing. The Devin Carter senior class, Kobe Penwell, Ethan Cockerill, you remember those guys and how hard they played. These kids, as sophomores, they saw that. Just like my freshman year in high school, I saw a good job being done. My hat goes off to them, as well. We had Cam Closson here. Lyle White checks on me every day. These kids have all laid a foundation.
“I can say seven in the morning or seven in the evening, we’re going to practice for three hours,” Stewart continued. “And more than half of our guys would show up early. When you have a work ethic like that, when your best player yields to coaching, you’ve got something special. It means more to me than I have a chance to express. Every fourth grade team has 10 guys, but you talk about the make-up of this 10, to just hang in there. Some of these guys played jayvee for two years for the opportunity to do this. They topped it off, but I tell you, it’s been a process.
“Tim Bolender coached these guys as freshmen. Ryan Olaker coached these guys on the jayvee level. This doesn’t get done without Marcus Coleman as my left arm for the last four years.”
Stewart, along with Travis Robertson of Waverly, were named Co-coaches of the Year by the sportswriters in the Southeast District.
They led the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds to the point where they will clash Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
McClain had to battle from behind Saturday.
Sheridan led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Generals held an eight-point lead early in the second quarter before the Tigers were able to claw back to go in front by three before the game ended tied, 24-24, at the half.
After allowing 24 points in the first half, McClain held Sheridan to 17 points in the second half.
Despite being in foul trouble and sitting for part of the first quarter, Toney returned to the game and gave the Tigers a spark with eight points in the second quarter.
After pouring in 24 points against the Washington Blue Lions in the first half of the district semifinal and finishing with 34 for the game, Badgley, who was held to just two points in the first half against Sheridan, scored two in the third quarter and led the Tigers with nine points in the fourth quarter.
The Generals began the third quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 30-24 lead. McClain tied the game with scoring from Preston Saunders, Badgley and Toney. In all, McClain outscored Sheridan 12-2 to end the third quarter in front, 36-32.
Badgley had back-to-back three-point buckets to start the fourth quarter to put the Tigers up by 10. Sheridan responded with a pair of threes of their own to make it 42-38 with four minutes remaining.
The Generals could draw no closer. After the score sat at 42-38, the Tigers outscored Sheridan in the final minutes, 11-3 to close out the district championship victory.
Defeating Sheridan, Stewart said, was a matter of hanging in there with grit and determination.
“We finally got some cuts going,” Stewart said. “They did a great job of defending Bryson in the first half. We kind of found him a little bit in the second half.”
There was the expected ebb and flow of the game, Stewart said.
“Once we got it going our way, the defense was so stable,” Stewart said. “Here we are in the district final, holding our opponent to 41 points. You look no further than that. That’s a basketball game we can win. I thought we did a really good job on the boards. They kept us off the offensive board, but by and large it was not a game of extra chances. It was one and done for them, indicative of the 41 points.
“When I took this job at my alma mater four years ago, what we wanted to also do was remind people of victories past. The Convo became a home court for Greenfield McClain with coach (Rick) Van Matre. This team gets to honor all of those other teams by following in their footsteps. I’m proud of these guys. I couldn’t be prouder. I’m a blessed man. Jesus opened doors, and in faith you just have to follow and walk through those doors.
“Greenfield McClain has a lot of echos, including my high school teammate Jimmy Jones right here,” Stewart said. “For us to be able to remember big moments that you shared with a teammate 47 years ago, it’s beyond (special).”
The district title is the 13th in the program’s history. The other district titles came in: ‘35, ‘42, ‘43, ‘75, ‘83, ‘85, ‘86, ‘87, ‘95, ‘00, ‘04 and ‘o5.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mc 8 16 12 17 — 53
S 14 10 8 9 — 41
McCLAIN — Preston Saunders 2-1-5; Bryson Badgley 3 (2)-1-13; Evann Mischal 0-1-1; Seth Wise 0-0-0; Braden Wright 3-5-11; Kendyll Toney 6 (1)-4-19; Wesley Potts 1-2-4. TOTALS — 15 (3)-14-53. Free throw shooting: 14 of 19 for 74 percent. Three-point field goals: Badgley, 2; Toney.
SHERIDAN — Blaine Hannan 0 (3)-0-9; Raine Rodich 1-0-2; Reed Coconis 3 (2)-1-13; Kaelan Pulliam 1 (1)-0-5; Reic Packer 0-0-0; Caden Sheridan 1 (1)-2-7; Kyle Peters 0-1-1; Mason Morrison 2-0-4. TOTALS — 8 (7)-4-41. Free throw shooting: 4 of 11 for 36 percent. Three-point field goals: Hannan, 3; Coconis, 2; Pulliam, Sheridan.
Chris Hoppes is the sports editor at the Record-Herald in Washington C.H.