State champs Taft dash Clermont County teams’ hopes

You would have been hard-pressed to find someone at the beginning of the winter that would have believed that the Clermont Northeastern boys’ basketball team would be the last Clermont County team alive in the sectional tournament, but that’s exactly what the Rockets did.

“We were kind of picked to be in the doghouse of the league,” CNE coach Jason Iles said. “We graduated eight seniors and had a team with no varsity experience and we paid for that in the first four games going 0-4.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We’ve stressed that all year. My guys have believed all year, they’re not quitters. We were the last SBC team standing and competing for a sectional championship. Now, that’s a standard we have to meet each and every year.”

The Rockets competed in that sectional championship against the defending Division III state champions, Taft. The Senators finished the regular season 15-4 with all four losses coming at the City of Palms Basketball Classic in Fort Meyers, Fla.

Taft ended Batavia’s season on Wednesday, Feb. 29 before meeting CNE on Saturday, March 3.

The Senators took care of the Bulldogs with a 110-41 victory. Taft had five players score in double figures, led by senior Orlando Berry’s 26 points.

“We really just couldn’t handle their athleticism, especially on the defensive side and in the half court,” Batavia coach Mike Hatfield said. “We didn’t do a horrible job with their full-court pressure, but in the half court they pushed us way out. They were so quick.”

Clermont Northeastern was next up for Taft. The Rockets were short-handed as all five seniors had left to go to New York City, leaving Iles to play with seven guys, two of which are regular starters.

The Rockets fell into some of the same pitfalls as Batavia did. The Taft size and athleticism put CNE out of the game pretty quickly en route to a 96-34 win.

“We were missing some guys. Only two starters were there, Derick Schmidt and Patrick Cornett,” Iles said. “But, take nothing away from Taft, they’re a good team and should be around at the end of the tournament.”

The Rockets ended the season 10-12 overall and 5-5 in the Southern Buckeye Conference American Division.

Iles believes that in his first year as head coach, the Rockets have succeeded given the changes he and his staff have brought in.

“From top to bottom, with a new coach and a new system, there were a lot of things I implemented throughout the year that we will continue to build on,” the coach said. “The kids did extremely well all year. The JV team had a great season, finished 12-8, so some of them should fill some varsity roles. We have to continue to get after it over the summer. The program is headed in the right direction.

“It’s over, but it’s just beginning. The better basketball players are made in the off season. All of those kids that played in the sectional championship game are back for us next year.”

Batavia, like CNE, finished their season strong after a slow start. “We went 8-4 after that 1-7 start, so I’m really proud of the kids for that,” Hatfield said. “JV had a great hear and we have a sophomore and three or four juniors coming back so I’m looking forward to next season.”