Jonathan Alder has emphatically announced its presence in the Central Buckeye Conference.
The school from Plain City made its first statement with an 8-2 football season, a 3-1 second-place finish behind Bellefontaine in the Kenton Trail Division and a playoff berth.
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The boys basketball team might do the football team one better. The Pioneers left Kenton Ridge on Friday night with a 58-51 victory to improve to 11-2 and 6-0 in the conference. It’s more than seventh-year coach Brent Cahill imagined.
“I knew in the summer what we’d have, but I didn’t think we’d be 11-2,” he said.
The scary part for the Kenton Trail is that the Pioneers are young with only three returning varsity players. They start only two seniors, and their best scorers and rebounders are a junior and three sophomores.
Jacob Koenig, a 5-foot-10 junior and one of two returning starters, leads the guard-heavy team in scoring with 14 a game. He scored 15 of his 17 points against the Cougars in the second half.
Point guard Jackie Santa-Emma, who was the seventh man last year as a freshman, is also listed at 5-10, but that might be stretching it a bit. He averages 10 points and four assists, but his ability to penetrate the Cougars’ defense led to what Cahill said was his best game with 18 points, seven assists and nine rebounds.
Cameron Androw is a 6-2 wing who averages eight points. The Pioneers’ bigs are 6-5 sophomores Henry Walker and backup Daniel Heinig, who had nine points off the bench after Walker got in foul trouble.
“Our chemistry is really good, and that’s what’s made us hard to defend at times,” Cahill said. “We share the ball, we can shoot it from many spots.”
The Pioneers’ chemistry of finding good shots kept them in the lead, but the Cougars (7-5, 3-3) kept it close until a 57-second spurt early in the fourth quarter. Koenig made a two-pointer, backup Jackson Izzard hit a 3-pointer and Koenig followed with another 3-pointer. Suddenly the lead was 50-36 with 5:46 to play.
The Pioneers hit open shots, but their defense, rebounding and outlet passes sparked the 8-0 run.
“They’re very disciplined, they play hard, they’re well-coached and the execute offensively,” Kenton Ridge coach Kris Spriggs said. “I thought we did a pretty good job defensively. Just a couple of our breakdowns they were able to capitalize on in key situations where we needed to have stops.”
Jameel Cosby led the Cougars with 17 points, Nasiim McKay added 10 and Blake Rice added a second-half spark off the bench with nine points. Kenton Ridge has bounced back well from last year’s winless regular season.
“It’s a good group of kids; they play well together,” Spriggs said. “We’ve just got to learn to continue to play together as a team when we’re dealing with adversity. Sometimes we don’t do that, and that makes it tough.”
Spriggs said Alder is a good addition to the league. And Cahill likes it better than the Pioneers’ previous stay in the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference, which dissolved.
“This conference the communities are better,” Cahill said. “The crowds, atmospheres, every place we’ve played. And when people come to our place it’s just better environments, better crowds, better gates.”