Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — Don’t worry about the last play, worry about the next play.
It’s a simple piece of advice that Zane Trace has invested in this season. That investment is now paying its dividends as the Pioneers get set to face Fairfield Union in a Division II district final.
The last time Zane Trace had the chance to play for a district championship was back in 2013. But to find the last time the Pioneers actually won a district title, you’d have to go back to 1970.
With coach Gary Kellough’s experience playing in environments like the one his kids will face this coming Sunday, this year’s roster may have an advantage over those before them.
“We try to give our kids the feeling of what it’s going to be like over the first two, three minutes of the game,” Kellough said. “We try to explain what they will go through, what they will see and what they will feel. Then, we’ve explained how things would develop as the game goes on and how tough it’s going to be. There’s not going to be a lot of fouls called and you can’t worry about the last play, you have to worry about the next play.”
There’s that advice again.
“Everybody is just buckling down in practice,” senior Chad Ison said. “It’s kind of tough with distractions. But the whole community is behind us and the support us. We just have to keep pushing through it. Everybody wants to win, so it’s honestly more intensity than ever.”
Zane Trace, which comes into the contest at 20-4 overall, faces a Falcons team that boasts quality wins over Columbus Academy, Sheridan, Amanda-Clearcreek and Washington — which they beat 50-39 in a Division II district semifinal to advance.
The Falcons, at 15-9, love to grind the game into long offensive possessions. According to Kellough, in order to get a win, the Pioneers can’t allow that to happen.
“The first thing we have to do is make them play at our tempo,” Kellough said. “They’re very well-coached and they run multiple sets. We’re working on those right now. But we have to not let them come down and grind an offensive possession from twenty to forty seconds. We have to make them make decisions and shoot the ball a little earlier than what they want.”
In layman’s terms, Zane Trace has to make the Falcons uncomfortable with what they’re usually comfortable with. Junior guard Colby Swain says that begins with man-to-man matchups.
Those will come against a plethora of capable scorers including Evan Conley — who recently scored his 1,000th career point — Chase Poston, Huston Harrah and Ryan Magill.
“It all comes down to [playing] our role,” Swain said. “I have to stop my matchup, which is Conley. We all have to do that, individually. They can pull up, they can shoot. So we’ve all got to help, we’ve got to rotate backside, and things like that. I think defense is going to be a big key.”
While Swain and company worry about their matchups, the Falcons’ defense will certainly be doing the same. That undoubtedly starts with the key to the Pioneers’ offense, Cam Evans.
Evans, the SVC and District 14 Coaches Player of the Year, has been nothing short of electric all season long. He’ll enter Sunday averaging 24.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Chances are, whatever defense Fairfield Union chooses to run, Evans has seen it.
“I think we’ve faced just about every kind of defense,” Kellough said. “He’s one of those guys where, you can do stuff to him, but he’s going to figure out a way to score … and we give him that freedom. We made a big change last season and over the summer to move Colby to the all-time one [position] and Cam to the two. Cam has had a great junior year. He’s our key and everything runs through him. There’s no doubt about that.”
But that’s not to say that Evans’ teammates can be forgotten about.
Take Nick Nesser for instance. The 6-foot-5 junior wing led the team with 17 points and eight rebounds in a 48-28 win in last week’s Division II district semifinal.
BY THE NUMBERS
|ZANE TRACE||FAIRFIELD UNION|
|9-14||All-Time Record in District Tournament||6-8|
|53-51||All-Time Record in Sectional/District Tournament||29-55|
|2 (1970, 1969)||District Titles||One (2017)|
|Seven||District Runner-Up Finishes||Three|
Add Nesser in with Swain, Ison, Triton Davidson, Luke Johnson, and others, and you’ve got yourself a potent offense mixed with lethal ingredients.
“Colby is a true point guard and, if he has to score, he can score more,” Kellough said. “I think he’ll start scoring more because people still think we’re a one-man team. We’re not. Nick carried the load in the district semi, Triton is good around the basket … it just depend on what the game and the situation is calling for.”
Zane Trace and Fairfield Union have a slated 3 p.m. tip-off time, Sunday at Ohio University’s Convocation Center. Kellough says, when it comes down to it, there’s two variables that will ultimately outweigh the rest.
“We preach two things to our kids all year,” Kellough said. “You have to think outside the box to do things that other people don’t think you can do and, number two, it’s all about, ‘Can I outplay the other guy?’ You have to be confident in yourself.”