Author: Rob Ellis

Springfield Wins 2nd Straight Regional Title

Springfield, Ohio — It has been a week since the game everyone in the city of Dayton had wanted to see all season was cancelled. After a positive COVID-19 test on Northmont came back, the Thunderbolts’ season was cancelled. That meant that Springfield would advance to the next round.

The team they would have to face would be a tough Olentangy Liberty team. They were coming fresh off of a Saturday win over Dublin Coffman. The Patriot defense forced a late fumble to seal the victory.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Wildcats looked to claim back to back regional titles behind three-star quarterback Te’Sean Smoot. Last year, they fell to Elder in the final four after a 7-3 regional title win over Dublin Coffman.

Olentangy Liberty started out with the football and they decided to roll the dice early. After a three-and-out, the Patriots faked the punt on 4th & 1 and instead had the punter run for the first down which he easily got. However, the drive eventually ended as Springfield held Olentangy Liberty again and they were forced to punt this time.

On the Wildcats opening possession, Te’Sean Smoot found his favorite target, Ben Van Noord on a bomb that resulted in a huge gain. Smoot then connected with Dovon Williams on 4th & 7 to move the chains. They eventually found the endzone as Smoot kept it himself and made his way in for a two-yard touchdown.

The Wildcats defense held Olentangy Liberty to another three-and-out. Then to open up the 2nd quarter, Smoot found Ben Van Noord again. This time on a bubble screen. Van Noord broke off a tackle and took that screen-pass 35 yards and into the endzone to put Springfield up 13-0 following a blocked extra point.

“It felt great to extend our lead  and put us in a better position,” said Van Noord after his big touchdown reception.

The rest of the first half was mostly defensive stops. Springfield got the ball back with two minutes remaining and Smoot took a shot deep. He found sophomore Anthony Brown for a gain of 35 yards. Then a couple plays later, Te’Sean found Brown one more time. Brown caught the ball then juked out his defender and turned up field for another Wildcat touchdown right before halftime. After another blocked PAT, Springfield led 19-0 going into the locker room.

The Wildcats started out with the football to begin the second half. After a big completion from Smoot to Van Noord, the Wildcats had great field position and looked to put this game away with one more score. But then the Patriot defense stepped up. Drew Thornton forced a fumble on a screen pass and then recovered it which gave Olentangy Liberty back the momentum and the football.

Despite the fantastic starting field position, Olentangy Liberty couldn’t do anything with the football. Jokell Brown sacked Mitch Fields which then made it 4th & 34 and the Patriots were forced to punt.

Later in the 3rd quarter, Olentangy Liberty runningback Stephen Dirksmeier broke off a huge run for 24 yards and it looked like the Patriots could comeback in this game. Even after that big run, the Patriots couldn’t move the ball in the redzone once again. Fields was forced to run on 4th down and he wasn’t able to convert.

Liberty’s defense continued to give their offense a chance late in the game. Smoot threw up a 50/50 ball to Ben Van Noord. Van Noord tipped the pass up and then Joseph Dieker made one of the top plays of the night as he intercepted Smoot off of the tipped pass.

But then again the Wildcat defense came up huge. Fields threw a dime to his receiver but it was dropped on 3rd down. Then the Springfield pressure sent Fields running outside of the pocket before he got hit. This resulted in a turnover on downs.

Smoot threw his second interception late in the fourth quarter. It appeared that the Olentangy Liberty defender got away with a bit off a push-off on Anthony Brown but no flags were thrown. The Patriots got one more chance with 4 minutes remaining.

After a long final drive, Mitch Fields was picked off by Kendal Dolby who sealed the 19-0 win. Smoot and his Wildcat teammates lined up in victory formation and Springfield would won its second straight regional title.

The Springfield defense constantly came up with huge stops in this game. When asked about how it felt to affect the game in a big way, junior Tywan January said, “I felt like we set the tone for the night and a lot of those stops is what got the momentum going.”

Te’Sean Smoot went 23/33 with 319 yards and 2 touchdowns passing. He also had 25 yards on 12 attempts with a touchdown rushing. Sophomore reciever Anthony Brown had 6 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. But possibly the best performance was from senior receiver Ben Van Noord. Van Noord transferred from Northwestern high school and has been an impact since he stepped on the field.

When asked if he ever thought he would be a regional champion while wearing a Springfield jersey, Van Noord said, “Honestly no. I thought I would be graduating from Northwestern. But transferring to Springfield was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

The Wildcats aren’t done yet. They will advance to the state semi-final against St. Xavier next week. The Bombers are coming fresh off of a last second win over Lakota West. Penn State commit and four-star Liam Clifford (the younger brother of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford) caught a huge touchdown to put the Bombers ahead late. That game will be held at Piqua high school next Friday at 7 pm.

Flyin’ to the Hoop Schedule Release

Dayton, Ohio — Whether it’s the five-star commits, the pregame dunk lines, or the chicken, Flyin’ to the Hoop has become a staple in high school basketball in the Miami Valley. With COVID-19 ruining most things involving major crowds in 2020, Flyin’ to the Hoop was expected to follow. But with the relentless efforts of event organizer Eric Horstman, the show will go on this year.

With major events like the City of Palms Classic already being cancelled, Flyin’ to the Hoop’s decision to be played was a surprise to some. Because Trent Arena will only able to sit a certain amount of fans, the ticket prices have raised for the event. The cost is now $25 for Friday, and $55 for each day the rest of the weekend.

The event will be loaded with talent this year. At the annual press conference, event President Eric Horstman said there will be seven five-star players and seventeen four-star players in attendance this year.

Some of the top players in attendance this year are very familiar. Buchtel star Chris Livingston who has been compared to LeBron James played two years ago as a freshman. Top 2023 prospect Elijah Fisher’s Crestwood Prep squad has been featured the last two years. Florida State commit Matthew Cleveland will highlight a strong Pace Academy team making yet another FTTH appearance, and who could forget former Centerville star Kebba Njie. The forward will make his return to Dayton as his new team, La Lumiere (IN), will be battling it out against Hamilton Heights (TN) on Friday night.

Some other top names to watch out for will be Georgetown commit Ryan Mutombo. He is the son of former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo and he will lead Lovett School (GA) into a big matchup against Wright State commit A.J. Braun and the Fenwick Falcons. Some other top players will be Gahanna Lincoln guard Sean Jones, Keyonte George from iSchool of Lewisville, and Rayvon Griffith from Taft.

Top Games

Friday, January 15th

Kebba Njie will make his return to Dayton as La Lumiere will get tested against a solid Hamilton Heights team. Despite the hometown storyline, Kebba won’t be the best player on the court. La Lumiere is loaded with talent. Four-star point guard Jeremy Fears is one of the top players in the country. He is paired in the backcourt with a top-50 junior in J.J. Starling. Quite possibly the biggest issue on this La Lumiere team will be 7-footer Vince Iwuchukwu. They round out their talented team with senior Harvard commit Denham Wojcik.

Hamilton Heights four-star Felix Okpara who holds offers from pretty much every SEC school will be the top player to watch on a loaded Hamilton Heights team. The 6’11” center is paired up with 6’8″ forward Jaret Valencia.

AZ Compass will return for another season at Flyin’ to the Hoop. The high-flying Michigan commit in Frankie Collins transferred away but the Dragons are still stacked with talent. Five-star Sadraque Nganga will be one of the top players to play at this event. The 6’8″ big man will look to put on a show for the second straight year. AZ Compass also returns four-star TyTy Washington, four-star Alden Applewhite, four-star Glenn Taylor, and three-star guard Javon Small.

ISA shocked everyone last year when they knocked off a really good Hillcrest Prep team led by Makur Maker. This year they have an entirely different team. Two local transfers in McNicholas transfer Larry Kociskco and London transfer Trey Woodyard will both be on display on Friday. Woodyard also recently committed to Valparaiso. They have a pair of Youngstown State commits in Josh Irwin and Michael Lucaroti. The top guy at ISA this year will be Andy Barba who went off at FTTH last year. The 6’6″ guard committed to Duquesne just last night and will look to lead ISA to another upset over a nationally ranked team.

Saturday, January 16th

A player who has been on top of Canadian hoops for some time now has been Elijah Fisher. Fisher has been one of the top talked about 2023 recruits since middle school. The 6’6″ guard now holds offers from Kansas, Syracuse, Florida State, Florida, Oregon, and Arizona. After being injured during his 8th grade year at Flyin’ to the Hoop, Crestwood was upset by a Fairmont team led by Ryan Hall. Last year, the Canadians got their revenge as Fisher made his FTTH debut and dropped 15 points in the victory.

Beavercreek will have a tough time stopping Fisher. The Beavers have their own division one prospect in forward Adam Duvall. Duvall showed last year as a sophomore why he deserves the D-1 offers. Duvall will be paired with fellow big man and shot blocker Gabe Phillips. Forward Braden Grant will be another key piece for ‘Creek as well as guard Siloam Baldwin. Defeating this talented Crestwood team will be a tough challenge for a younger Beavercreek team.

Thomas Worthington is a top team out of Central Ohio. They will be led by Furman commit Tyrese Hughey and Kent State commit Jalen Sullinger. That nasty duo will need to be on the top of their game if the Cardinals want to knock off a tough Canton McKinley team.

The Bulldogs guard Kobe Johnson has seen his recruitment blowup during the pandemic. He’s gained offers from Kent State, Toledo, and West Virginia. The reigning district champs will look to have another deep run in the tournament behind Johnson as this matchup against Thomas Worthington should be a good test for them.

Both Pace Academy and Pick. Central have put out countless talent into college and the NBA. Whether it’s Caris LeVert or Wendell Carter, both of these programs have been a hot place for prospects to be. The Tigers lost some talent last season as star guard Conner Maciag graduated and is now attending IMG for a postgrad year. They still have star player Garner Wallace who will lead this always talented team into Kettering in January.

Pace Academy star Matthew Cleveland committed to Florida State University this summer. The five-star showed off his talent at Flyin’ to the Hoop last year and will do the same this go around. Pace Academy is currently ranked as a top-15 team in the country and will be a good contest with a top team in the state in Pickerington Central.

Jalin Billingsley’s 21 point performance last year against Alter got him on the all-FTTH first team. The Georgetown commit hopes to make the same thing happen this year as his Lutheran East team will square off against the Centerville Elks.

Centerville will be an interesting team this year. A lack of size isn’t an issue with them, but finding someone who will be able to consistently lock down Billingsley might be a problem. Sophomore sensation Gabe Cupps will look to lead the charge for the Elks to pull off a huge win. Centerville will also be led by junior sharpshooter Tom House and junior forward Rich Rolf. Rolf has improved tremendously over the summer and will look to have a breakout junior season.

Sunday, January 17th

New Springfield head coach Shawn McCullough is no stranger to playing at Flyin’ to the Hoop. His Thurgood Marshall teams have had some thrilling games the last couple of years. Two years ago they upset a solid Pace Academy team and then last year, their comeback bid against Rayvon Griffith’s Taft squad fell just short.

Both of these teams have similar expectations coming into the year. With the head coaching situation last year at Springfield, their season was derailed in the middle of the year. The last place Wildcats played very well down the stretch though, as they climbed all the way to second in the GWOC. Then they made it all the way to the sectional final before falling to Beavercreek. Josh Tolliver will be the top player on an underdog Wildcat squad that will look to knock off a Massillon Jackson team that finished below .500 last season.

As someone who’s been called the best player to come out of Akron since LeBron, Buchtel junior Chris Livingston is ready for the big stage. Livingston and his twin brother Cordell both transferred to Western Reserve Academy last season before transferring back to Buchtel this year. Chris got his first offer from Ohio State before he even played in his first varsity game.

Alter has their own college prospect. Jacob Conner blew up this summer. Gaining over 7 D1 offers in just one week. The junior has grown, put on weight, and improved his gain tremendously this offseason. Alter also has an army of sharpshooting guards led by Ryan Chew, Gavin Geisel, and Anthony Ruffolo.

Trotwood-Madison will play in yet another Flyin’ to the Hoop game this season. The Rams will have a lot of change. Not only will Rocky’s Rams not be in a conference but they graduated their two leading scorers from last season. Both Carl Blanton who will be attending Eastern Arizona and Sammy Anderson who will be playing football at UC will be huge losses to the Rams. Trotwood will recover though. The Rams picked up two huge transfer. The first was Biggie Luster who has Dayton roots but has played in Illinois for his entitre high school career. The other is one of the best players in Southwest Ohio in Anthony McComb. That duo of guards paired with returning players like Carter Mims and Demontay Raglin will tough for any team to stop.

St. Ignatius will bring back some talent as 6’7″ forward Henry Raynor will be a player to watch for the Wildcats. A key loss for St. Ignatius will be guard Chase Toppin who graduated last spring. This matchup should be a very intriguing one as a pair of high level teams going at it with a lot of talent at either end.

Another top game on Sunday will be a high level matchup between two of the nation’s top teams. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary led by Ohio State commit and four-star Malaki Branham will be one of the hottest teams to watch this year at FTTH. Not only do the Irish have a star in Branham, but they posses another star in guard Sincere Harris. Branham dropped 42 points in SVSM’s big win over Trotwood last year at Flyin’ to the Hoop.

Dream City Christian out of Arizona will have a reloaded team again at Trent Arena this winter. Arizona State commit Demari Williams will be a tough matchup for the Irish as well as four-star Shaedon Sharpe. Those two matchups will be very fun to watch on Sunday afternoon.

Yorkville Christian standout and four-star Jaden Schutt will be on full-display on Sunday. The junior who holds multiple Big Ten offers including offers from Michigan State and Ohio State will be matched up against a Chaminade Julienne team who lost a lot of talent from last year’s sqaud.

Returning for the Eagles will be senior guard and Gardner-Webb baseball commit A.J. Soloman who is coming off an injury. Also returning will be senior big man Dan Nauseef. C-J graduated stars Brandon Gibson and Larry Turner last year. The bottom line in this game is that C-J will need some players to step-up in order to take down a nationally ranked prep school with a top player in the country in their starting lineup.

Sean Jones is a player that a lot of fans have wanted to see at Flyin’ to the Hoop for some time now. The obvious matchup in this game will be the shifty Jones going up against Wayne star Lawrent Rice. Rice recently picked up an offer from Purdue while Jones has picked up offers from Cincinnati and Xavier and has received interest from Ohio State.

Wayne will return all of its starting lineup from last year as Malcolm Curry, Elijah Brown, Lawrent Rice, Ben Palma, and Cam Fancher will look to pickup a win at Flyin’ to the Hoop. The Warriors come into this game with a bad taste in their mouth as last years game against Grayson got out of hand late. The Warriors could have pulled off a huge upset in that game. Due to their poor shooting and the talent of the nationally ranked Rams, it was just too little too late for Wayne.

Monday, January 18th

One of the most exciting matchups this weekend will be between two very talented big man. One is Wright State commit A.J. Braun. Braun wanted to stay home as he committed to the hometown Raiders this fall. Braun will look to be one of the top players in the GCL CO-Ed this year. He uses his 6’8” frame and stocky build to his advantage.

Guarding Braun will be Georgetown commit Ryan Mutombo. The 6’11” star is the son of former NBA standout Dikembe Mutombo. He committed to the Hoyas earlier this month and the matchup between him and a local star in Braun should be a very fun game to watch.

Dunbar will be making their first Flyin’ to the Hoop appearance since 2017 as Tony Dixon has revived this once great program. The Wolverines are stacked this year. Star guard Mekhi Elmore who is the reigning Dayton City League player of the year will lead the charge for Dunbar. They also have key guards Chanze Amerson, Antaune Allen, Antone Allen, and Randy Latham. Along with returning players like Gregory Packnett and Shaun Huffman. One of the biggest names is Meadowdale transfer Justin O’Neal who should have a breakout season this year.

The team Dunbar will be playing is Lima Shawnee. Shawnee went undefeated last year before their season was ended due to COVID-19. They return the D2 player of the year in George Mangas and will be a very different team to play for a Dunbar team used to running the floor the entire game.

Botkins will be making their first ever Flyin’ to the Hoop appearance this year. With head coach Sean Powell at the helm, the Trojans look to finish towards the top of the SCAL. They return one of the highest stock risers in the Dayton area from this summer in forward Jacob Pleiman. They also return a talented guard in Jayden Priddy-Powell who is the son of coach Powell.

Their opponent will be Ottoville. Ottoville defeated Anna at Flyin’ to the Hoop last year and they look to knock off another SCAL opponent this season. The Big Green finished 19-4 last season and their win over Anna at Trent Arena last year sparked a huge winning streak for them. They hope to do the same this year as guarding the duo of Priddy-Powell and Pleiman will be no easy task.

Fairmont guard Malachi Parker hit a clutch game winner last year against Hughes at Flyin’ to the Hoop. Parker will be joined alongside junior Anthony Johnson who will be returning for his third year at the varsity level. Quite possibly the most talented player on this Firebird team is junior forward Dasan Doucet. Doucet played this summer with Hopson Elite which helped with his recruiting. He also drastically improved his shot which will help him a lot this season.

Taft has ended their season the past two years with heartbreaking losses to Dayton teams. Twin Hines and the Northridge Polar Bears knocked them off two years ago at UD and Allen Lattimore and Stivers upset them this past March at Northmont. Sophomore Rayvon Griffith still has a lot to prove. The highly rated guard will be one of the top players at this event. He currently holds offers from Ohio State, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.