Monroe Central’s Jacob Fogle lifts a corner 3-pointer, defended by Toronto’s Kamryn Baker during Saturday’s OVAC 2A Championship inside Harrison Central High School.
CADIZ – The good times just keep rollin’ for the Monroe Central Seminoles.
Coming into the OVAC Class 2A championship undefeated at 17-0, first-year head coach Mason Lang and his ‘Noles earned their schools’ first OVAC title in a 60-32 victory over Toronto.
Led by Tucker Howell’s 31-point, 13-rebound, five-steal performance, Monroe Central overcame a shaky start to bring home the gold.
“Coming into the season we set goals,” Monroe Central head coach Mason Lang said. “Goal number one was to win more games than last year; 16 was that number, we hit that number. Goal number two was to win an OVAC championship. First one in school history, the boys really bought in. That’s how this happens, you have to buy in from day one, you have to work from day one, you have to have super competitive practices, you have to know that even when you’re down, you have to show up. We were down tonight, our second-leading scorer was out tonight, and it was a next-man-up mentality, we were able to finish the game strong.”
While the final score was more than decisive, Monroe Central trailed 8-0 to begin the action Saturday, and were behind 12-6 after the first quarter.
Playing without second-leading scorer Chance Allen, Monroe Central started the game with four turnovers and one missed field goal in their first five possessions, while Toronto converted in transition.
The Seminoles were 2-5 with six turnovers in the first quarter, while Toronto was 5-12 with three turnovers.
“We came out in the first quarter, played our game, had a couple key mistakes but we capitalized on everything we wanted to do,” Toronto head coach Sean Tucker said. “Monroe’s a great team, they’re ranked in the state for a reason. We knew coming into it we had to limit our mistakes, definitely had to limit turnovers because they’re very good at capitalizing on that.”
“That’s a senior-led team,” Lang said of Toronto. “We knew they were going to come here hungry for this win. We talked about the fact that they’re going to come out throwing punches; we’d have to be able to take one and throw a counter-punch.
While the Red Knights had the edge in the first quarter, things couldn’t have gone much differently in the second.
With 6-foot-7 Toronto big man Cayden Benton on the bench with two fouls, Monroe Central won the second quarter 18-2. The Seminole’s dominance went beyond Benton’s absence.
Monroe took better care of the ball, with only two turnovers in the second quarter, while Toronto committed seven. Twice Tucker Howell swiped a steal in the passing lanes and went down the other end for a score, once being fouled and once converting the lay-in. The second instance gave Monroe a 13-12 lead, their first lead of the night, and one that would grow to 28 by the end of the game.
Where Benton’s benching was perhaps more profoundly felt was on the offensive glass. Howell had three offensive putbacks in the second quarter, and finished with five. He scored 14 of his 31 in the second quarter alone.
From the closing moments of the first quarter to nearly the end of the second quarter, Harrison Central High School witnessed a 19-0 Monroe Central run that had them ahead 22-12, and 24-14 at halftime.
“Second quarter, we started to get away from our game plan and things started to snowball,” Tucker said. “Monroe went on a pretty good run, I think we only had one field goal in the second quarter, and that’s not good enough for us. We can’t let that happen. Things just kind of snowballed from there.”
“All year we’ve been able to find that quarter where we really lock in and hold a team down,” Lang said. “Tonight it was the second quarter, let us back into the game. Really proud of the boys for that effort.”
In turning a nine-point deficit into a 28-point championship-sealing victory, Lang pointed to adjustments on offense which led to success on defense.
“We stuck to the game plan,” Lang said. “The boys didn’t panic, they continued to play hard. We knew early, we talked about ‘turnovers lead to fast breaks for them.’ They’re really aggressive in that 1-3-1 defense, that 3-2 defense, their top players get out and run, they pressure the ball, they take away the passes you want to make. They’re really coached well in that aspect.
“We had to start meeting the ball with two hands and two feet, throwing a little stronger passes. Once we started doing that, we took away their transition opportunities, and we play pretty good half court defense. When we got them into the halfcourt, I was happy with that.”
Toronto was led Kamryn Baker with 14, 10 in the first quarter, and Noah Karaffa with nine points and four steals.
Howell’s younger brother Cooper scored 11 to join Tucker in double figures. Jacob Fogle, who filled in for Allen in the starting lineup Saturday, scored nine, all coming from a trio of trifectas in the third quarter, a period where Monroe Central threw their game into another gear and built a 48-25 lead going into the fourth. Tucker Howell earned game MVP honors.
The Seminoles have their first taste of conference gold in school history, and did it through injury and adversity. They feel their preparation has positioned them to overcome any amount of adversity.
“We practice in a very competitive environment; we play 10-deep all season,” Lang said. “I think that really prepares you for if you’re down a couple [players]. Tuesday night we were down three, so these guys really fought through it and really showed up tonight. Great win for us.”