By Garth Shanklin
It has been quite the winter sports season at Bethel-Tate High School. The school’s wrestlers won a regional title and advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history. Shortly after that, the girls’ basketball team won their first-ever division title. Just in the last few days, the wrestling team win the National Division title and Gracyn McQueary will be representing the Tigers at the state swim meet.
Not wanting to be outdone, the Bethel-Tate boys’ basketball team made some history of its own last week, rallying from a late nine-point deficit to defeat Williamsburg 41-35 and earn a share of the league title for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The game was close early on. In the first quarter, Williamsburg needed a buzzer-beating three-point shot from Drew McKibben to take a 13-9 lead into the second period. Neither team lit up the scoreboard in the second stanza, with the Wildcats out-scoring the Tigers 6-4 to take a 19-13 lead into halftime.
Bethel-Tate head coach Tom Jutze said he believed the importance of the game weighed on the Tigers a bit in the first half, which explained the slow start.
“We were sluggish,” Jutze said. “I think we were tight a little bit. The kids have never really been in this position to play for a share of the league title, so it was kind of new to them. You could tell, we weren’t in rhythm in that first half. We were trying to do too much on our own, I think.”
The third quarter didn’t start out much better for Bethel-Tate. Williamsburg scored six of the first nine points and extended their lead to 27-18 with less than three minutes left in the period.
Then, the Tigers caught a break. Williamsburg’s Jacob Wells was called for an intentional foul with 2:13 left in the third quarter and the Wildcats leading by nine. Bethel-Tate’s Trenton Weeks hit both free-throws, then roughly 30 seconds later Weeks converted a three-point play to pull Bethel-Tate within four points. After a Williamsburg three-pointer by Landon Ridener, Weeks hit another three-point basket to pull Bethel-Tate back within four points heading into the fourth quarter.
Williamsburg pulled ahead 34-29 after a put-back by Wells with 4:02 remaining. Turnovers plagued the Wildcats over the final few minutes, limiting the team to just three points. Bethel-Tate went on a 10-0 run that spanned 1:54 to lead 39-34. McKibben hit a free-throw and Griffin Reinart hit a pair of foul shots for the Tigers that put the game away.
“We just turned the ball over too many times in the fourth quarter,” Williamsburg head coach Dan McKibben said. “We took a couple bad shots. We got caught up in the game and didn’t realize situations. A young team will make those mistakes, we just made them at the wrong time. You have to give Bethel a lot of credit, they made their free-throws in the fourth quarter, they made some shots. We’ll learn from it and be better.”
Drew McKibben and Wells led the Tigers with 10 points apiece. Ridener added 7. Bethel-Tate got 18 points each from Weeks and Tommy Bingamon. The rest of the Tigers combined for five points total.
Jutze said the team didn’t give up when they were trailing, adding that he told the players to improve their defense.
“We kept believing,” Jutze said. “We executed a little bit more. Our defense kind of carried us. We told them, ‘You have to keep guys in front of you,’ and we did a little bit better job of that in the mid-third quarter to the end of the game.”
Williamsburg’s plan defensively was to shut down the Tigers’ perimeter game. Bethel-Tate hit five three-pointers, three by Bingamon and two by Weeks.
“They’re not going to throw it inside,” McKibben said. “Our focus was stopping their kids on the perimeter. Their big kids set a lot of screens and try to free them up. We did a good job helping on that.”
Not only does the win assure Bethel-Tate of the league title, it made a special night all that more special. The school honored Jutze for his 200th career win, which came earlier this season against Amelia in the Tigers’ season-opener on Dec. 2, 2016. In addition, it was senior night for Bethel-Tate, and Jutze said winning a league title with this group of players was a team goal from the start.
“It means a whole lot,” Jutze said. “This is a special place. When we came here, that was our goal with this group. For these kids to meet their goals, that’s so pleasing for me as a coach to see those kids mature and grow up and do what they do. It’s really an incredible feeling for me.”
The Tigers open sectional tournament play at Western Brown High School on Friday, Feb. 24 against Madeira at 8:30 p.m. Should they win, they could face Williamsburg for a third time. The Wildcats begin their sectional tournament run at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Western Brown against North College Hill.