PORT CLINTON - When Troy Diels took over as boys basketball coach at Port Clinton five years ago, he had a simple goal for his program. Funny thing is, the goal had nothing to do with wins, losses, or championships.
"My goal was to put a team on the floor that the community would support and get behind," Diels said.
There's no question Diels has reached that goal as the Redskins prepare for the first state Final Four appearance in school history. Port Clinton, unbeaten at 25-0, will play in the Division III state semifinals at Ohio State's Value City Arena Thursday.
The Redskins will face Zanesville in a game that tips off at 8:30 p.m., and the team is excited about having a number of fans wearing red and black on hand to root for them in Columbus.
"It's nice to have a lot of fans backing us up, getting us pumped up for the games," said Josh Francis, one of four seniors on the team.
Port Clinton brought a large, loud crowd to BGSU's Anderson Arena for the team's two regional victories. But Francis and the team's other seniors - Ryan Hicks, Allen Tigner, and Cory Brown - said the support goes beyond gameday.
"Everywhere you go around town, there are signs for us," Hicks said. "Even when you go to Catawba, there are people rooting for us.
"When you go out in public, everyone knows who you are."
Diels said he and the team are excited to give the community something positive to cheer about.
"Port Clinton has suffered a lot of tragedies recently, and unemployment is up in our county and our area," said Diels, referencing the death of wrestler Jonathan Pope in a truck accident on Christmas Eve.
"To provide the community with some enjoyment, and to help with the healing process a little bit, is nice to be able to do."
While Port Clinton is making its first state finals appearance, Diels said his team isn't content.
"The kids were pretty excited after winning the regional final, but now when I see them around the school they want to know about practice, and about Zanesville," he said. "They are still a hungry group.
"Their goal wasn't just to get to Columbus; their goal is to win. They won't be satisfied just to get there."
The Redskins will face a difficult test in Zanesville, which will enter the game with a 17-6 record after upsetting Columbus DeSales in the regional finals.
The Blue Devils, who were unranked in the final state poll, are making their first state appearance since 1997. But Zanesville coach Scott Aronhalt, now in his 20th season there, has taken three teams to the Final Four.
The Blue Devils are led by guard Tanner Gibson, who averages 14.3 points per game, while 6-1 forward Raheem Forman adds 10.7 per contest. All five starters average at least 6.9 points per game.
"I like their point guard, Gibson; he presents some challenges for us," Diels said. "He's athletic, can shoot the 3-pointer, and can go to the rim.
"Forman isn't tall, but he's good at facing up and getting to the rim. He's not big, but he's very athletic."
The Redskins will counter with Hicks and Francis scoring inside while Brown, Tigner, and junior Derek Colston offer points outside.
Hicks leads the team with an average of 16.3 points per game, but Francis is close behind at 16.2 per contest. The three guards all average around nine points per game, with Colston and Tigner at 9.1 and Brown at 8.9.
"I'm impressed with their ball movement," Aronhalt said of Port Clinton. "They have two kids inside who are skilled, and their point guard [Tigner] is very athletic.
"You're not undefeated if you're not skilled, well-coached, and have great talent, and Port Clinton has all of that."
But the Redskins also have the support of their lakeside community, which was Diels' goal all along.
"The support we have from the community is even greater than I expected," Diels admitted. "People will stop us at stoplights, and all of the downtown businesses are painted to support us.
"The support is something we really appreciate."
Zanesville's Aronhalt agreed, adding, "In these times, and in this economy, any time you have a positive impact in your community, that's a great thing."
Contact John Wagner at:
or (419) 724-6481.