Veteran coach Paul Wayne's Holgate Tigers will be in a familiar spot tonight as the boys Division IV regional basketball semifinals are contested at Bowling Green State University.
The Tigers (15-8) take on Fort Jennings (12-12) in the 6:30 p.m. semifinal at Anderson Arena, while sixth-ranked Van Buren (21-2) battles perennial small-school power Wynford (18-5) at 8:15.
Holgate got off to a slow start, losing five of its first nine games. The Tigers didn't exactly close with a flurry either, dropping three straight games before beating Antwerp and Wauseon prior to tournament play.
Those rough spots mattered little, however, as Holgate reached its seventh consecutive regional by topping Stryker in sectional play, then beating and Montpelier and Buckeye Border Conference champion Pettisville 44-34 in the district.
For Wayne, 436-262 in his 30th season guiding the Tigers, this is his 13th trip to the regional.
Only once has he led them beyond the regional. That came in 2004 when Holgate won the state championship, beating Marion Local 40-32 in the D-IV final.
This year's Tigers, who employ Wayne's trademark deliberate style, are allowing just 33.8 points per game while scoring 39.2. Holgate is led by 6-4 senior center Joe Baker, a third-team all-district player who averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds during the regular season.
The Tigers may be 15-8 but are easily the most battle-tested team in this D-IV regional field.
Holgate lost games to Toledo Christian (22-1) and Archbold (19-3), the third-ranked teams in D-IV and D-III, respectively. The Tigers also fell against D-II schools Napoleon and Wauseon (16-7), and to four D-III foes - Wayne Trace (14-7), Ayersville (18-3) and Tinora in Green Meadows Conference play, and to Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Patrick Henry (18-5).
In Fort Jennings, which is coached by Wayne's longtime friend, veteran John Von Sossan, Holgate is facing another team which has elevated its game in tourney play.
The Musketeers of the Putnam County League closed the regular season at 8-12, but have beaten Delphos St. John's and Lincolnview in sectional play, then upset PCL foe and 2006 state runner-up Columbus Grove 55-51 in the district semis, and PCL champion Ottoville (19-4) by a 51-40 count in the district final.
Like Wayne, Von Sossan has a state title to his credit. He led the Musketeers to a D-IV crown in 2000. Fort Jennings has been paced by 6-6 junior center Derek Geise and 6-1 senior guard Sean Weber.
Van Buren's only two losses this season came against top-level Division III competition.
After a 14-0 start, the Black Knights lost their Blanchard Valley Conference showdown 47-34 against 23-0 Liberty-Benton, Ohio's top-ranked D-III team. The other was a 59-47 setback in the regular-season finale against Patrick Henry.
Coach E.J. Frost's Knights - who toppled Toledo Christian 58-47 in Friday's district final to get here - are led by 6-4 junior forward Matt Phillips. The first-team all-district player averaged 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in the regular season.
Wynford, which placed second in the North Central Conference, is led by John Shifley, a 6-3 junior forward who earned third-team all-district honors after averaging 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Royals. Wynford edged Vanlue 56-50 for its district title.
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