Fans send off Tigers
IRONTON -- It has been an amazing ride for the Ironton Fighting Tigers throughout the boys basketball season.
However, as the Fighting Tigers gathered outside of the high school Wednesday for a pep rally to send them on their way to the state tournament in Columbus there was little talk of what they have done.
Instead, the talk was about what the team could do in Ohio's Final Four.
"We are very proud of what we have done this season," Ironton coach Mark LaFon said. "But we're not satisfied with what we've done. We have a lot more to accomplish. Let's go take care of Thursday and hopefully, we'll be there on Saturday."
Ironton (23-2) and Ottawa-Glandorf (24-3) play a Division III semifinal game at 10:45 a.m., Thursday, in Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center at Ohio State University. Versailles (22-5) plays Leavittsburg LaBrae (24-3) at 2 p.m.
The winners meet for the Division III championship at 10:30 a.m., Saturday.
LaFon's team has already guaranteed there will be a banner raised in the Conley Center rafters for making it to Ohio's Final Four, but there is an opportunity that is much bigger than just this team or even Ironton's program.
During the comments presented on Wednesday as the team left, it was mentioned that the last team from Lawrence County to win a state championship in basketball was the famous Waterloo Wonders, who have been chronicled in history.
The senior-laden Wonders captured the title and then many members of the team formed a professional team that barnstormed across the country and took on some of the top teams in the day.
That was the 1934-35 season. That was the last state champion from Lawrence County.
Ironton is two games away from rewriting that historical data, and the team could not be more excited.
Senior forward Trey Fletcher said getting to the Schottenstein Center is a great feeling after three years of coming up slightly short.
"The first three years, it was really hard to take that long bus ride home once the year was done," Fletcher said. "It feels good to know we're up there, but we've got to win this game and do something that Ironton's never done before in basketball."
Ironton's last trip to the Final Four was in 2005 when the team lost to O.J. Mayo's North College Hill team in the Division III championship. The Fighting Tigers also advanced to the Final Four in 1994.
The chance at history has been a motivational factor for Zac Carter, Ironton's scoring leader who is one of seven seniors on the team.
"It's probably one of the best feelings I've had in my four years here," Carter said. "That's what everyone wants -- to go to the Schottenstein Center. We finally got it done. Now, we have to go win it."
Carter and Fletcher comprise one of the top Division III tandems in the state. Carter, who was named as the AP Division III Southeast District Player of the Year and an AP Division III All-Ohio first team selection, averages 24.1 points per game while facilitating the offense at point guard.
Fletcher was named as an All-Ohio third team selection while adding an all-district first team honor to his trophy case after a season in which he averaged 20.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.
The Fighting Tigers will be taking on an Ottawa-Glandorf team who features three starters standing 6-foot-4 or taller, led by 6-7 sophomore forward Noah Bramlage, who LaFon pointed to as a focal point even though he's not the team's leading scorer.
"He's their anchor," LaFon said. "He might not be their highest scorer but he's their anchor. The offense runs through him when it's running well."
LaFon said one advantage that his team expects to have is an athleticism advantage that can help the Fighting Tigers get into a transition game, but it is predicated on the team staying disciplined and controlling the rebounds.
"There's no doubt that we have to maintain our spacing so we can block out and then we can't stand and look at the rim because we are bigger or stronger most of the time," LaFon said. "We have to secure the ball and then get it moving."
The 6-6 Fletcher said he's looking forward to going against the taller Titans.
"This is going to be a battle to the end," Fletcher said. "Whoever gets their offensive rhythm and executes their plan is going to win the game. Hopefully, we're that team."
Ironton comes into the game having won 17 straight games. The Fighting Tigers have not lost to a team from Ohio during the 2012-13 campaign.
Ottawa-Glandorf is Ottawa, Ohio, in the northwest part of the state.