- By David Jablonski Staff Writer
Wittenberg graduate Steve Moore turned Wooster in a national powerhouse in NCAA Division III basketball and has handed his alma mater numerous losses over the years. It was only fitting that the Scots would repay the favor at some point and send one of their own to Wittenberg.
That finally happened last spring when point guard Mitch Balser left Wooster after two seasons for Wittenberg. Of course, the Scots didn’t send him to Springfield. This wasn’t an actual trade. The Centerville High School graduate Balser, who saw his playing time diminish from his freshman to sophomore season, decided to transfer.
Even his dad Fred, who played for Wooster from 1976-79 and was the team MVP as a junior and senior, approved of the move. Fred took Mitch to Wittenberg-Wooster games at Wooster and at Wittenberg when he was younger.
“My dad supports me more than anybody,” Balser said. “He just wants what is best for me.”
Balser has turned into a key cog for the No. 3 Tigers (18-0, 11-0). He scored a season-high 23 points Wednesday in a 76-64 victory against DePauw at Pam Evans Smith Arena. He’s averaging 12.3 points and leads the team with 43 3-pointers while shooting 43 percent from long range. He ranks fifth in the North Coast Athletic Conference with 3.4 assists per game.
DePauw made a commitment to stopping Wittenberg’s top post players, Chad Roy and Connor Seipel, coach Matt Croci said, and that opened the outside game for Balser and others.
“I’m proud of the bigs for recognizing that and kicking the ball out,” Croci said. “I’m certainly proud of Mitch for making shots. We needed that tonight.”
Wittenberg returns to action at 3 p.m. Saturday against Denison (10-8, 6-5) at Pam Evans Smith Arena. The Tigers then play Kenyon (6-12. 3-8), Oberlin (9-9, 3-4) and Wabash (8-10, 4-7) before closing the regular season with games against the three teams directly behind it in the NCAC standings: Hiram (11-7, 7-4); Ohio Wesleyan (13-5, 8-3); and Wooster (14-4, 8-3).
Wittenberg has beaten everyone in the conference once. Doing it twice will be a bigger challenge. At least Balser got the first game against Wooster out of the way. He scored five points in Wittenberg’s 86-75 victory at Wooster on Jan. 13.
“It was weird just being in my old atmosphere,” Balser said, “but it was fun. It was a great experience. From the beginning of the year, I looked forward to it. I want every game, but I can say I wanted that one a little bit more.”
While Balser couldn’t have expected he would join a program that would start the season 18-0, he had big hopes for his team because he knew his new teammates well.
“I knew coming in that I was going to get to play with some guys, such as (Jordan) Pumroy,” Balser said. “I knew of him. I knew about Jake (Bertemes). The main thing — no offense to the rest of my teammates — was Chad Roy inside. I played against him for two years, and it was hard. I was talking to my dad about the transfer and said, ‘I get to play with a 6-10 dude who could be an All-American.’”