VANDALIA — Mike Harrison knew the team that controlled the tempo would most likely be the team that would be cutting down the net and holding a district championship trophy at the end.
The National Trail boys’ basketball coach wanted to keep the game at a slower pace, while Anna wanted to use its overall athleticism to push the tempo.
The Blazers were able to keep the game at their pace for the first half, but ultimately the Rockets soared to a 69-54 win in a boys Division III district final at Vandalia-Butler High School on Saturday, March 7.
Trail, making its second straight district final appearance and just third overall in program history, finished the season 21-4.
“Our guys’ mindsets were very confident that we could play with them. We’ve played them multiple times in the summer so there was some familiarity — so we didn’t want to change completely who we were all season, but at the same time we had to try to get the game into a half-court game where their athleticism and depth wouldn’t be as much of a factor,” Harrison said.
Trail raced out to a 21-18 first quarter lead behind junior Cameron Harrison’s nine points.
The Rockets grabbed the lead at 32-29 by halftime and gradually pulled away in the second half. Anna led 50-45 after three, before outscoring the Blazers 19-9 over the final eight minutes.
“Unfortunately we just weren’t able to do that. The first quarter turned into a track meet and we were having a lot of success finding and making shots, but eventually their pressure at both ends of the floor just took its toll on us and really wore us down,” Coach Harrison said. “They just come after you with so many athletes. When the All-State running back (in football) comes out after hounding our point guard all game, they move over their All-State QB to keep the pressure up. We needed to handle their pressure better, not turn it over as much and not allow it to rattle us into unwanted early shots, and we could have done a better job keeping (Bart) Bixler and (Kamren) Steward out of the paint, but overall I loved the way we competed. I felt the boys left their hearts out on the floor. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Blazers were led in scoring by senior Zach Woodall’s 22 points. Woodall finishes his career ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals for Trail.
“Zach Woodall was finally feeling healthy again and he had a heck of a game,” Coach Harrison said. “(He) really kept us in it when we were struggling offensively in the second half.”
Cameron Harrison finished with 16, while junior Tyler Weathington and sophomore Michael Leal each chipped in with six.
The Blazers finished the season as CCC champs, going 12-0.
“At the beginning of the year this was an immature basketball team that I thought worked hard and bought in to playing together and playing for each other — and ended up with school record number of wins,” Coach Harrison said. “They should all be very proud of what they’ve accomplished together.”
Trail graduates four seniors, Woodall, Eli Hughes, Colton Toms, and Coleton Everman.
“(I’m) really proud of these guys. They all have done a great job making the most of their talents, being great teammates, and showing leadership throughout their careers. They each have been a big part of our success the last few years,” Coach Harrison said.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or follow on Twitter @emowen_RH