- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
The Middletown Christian School boys basketball team took its fourth loss in five days Tuesday night.
So why was first-year coach Jason Crider smiling?
Because he liked his squad’s finish against visiting Madison in a 68-50 defeat. He likes the Eagles’ effort and attitude. And he feels confident that MCS is capable of making an impact in the Division IV postseason.
“It’s been fun,” Crider said. “I’ve never lost this many games at this point in a season as a varsity coach, but by and large, it’s the most fun I’ve had coaching a team.”
Middletown Christian is 4-13 and playing at less than full strength. Sophomore guard C.J. Money has a high ankle sprain, and Crider is hoping he can return for Friday’s Metro Buckeye Conference road game against Dayton Christian.
The Eagles were outmanned by Madison (15-3), which extended its winning streak to 11. But MCS refused to roll over and call it a night, even after falling behind 52-22 late in the third quarter.
Dre Shores scored all 19 of his points in the second half and 15 in the final period as Middletown Christian fought back to make the final score more respectable. Jarod Hamlin totaled 11 points and eight rebounds.
“We had to pick up the energy and get back into the game, which I think we did at the end,” said Shores, a 6-foot-5 senior. “We’re trying to pick it up, and the seniors are trying to be leaders. You never want to get blown out … that’s embarrassing.
“We have a lot of supportive fans that still come out here and watch us, even though we’re having a bad season, so we do everything for them. Glory to God, we always stay positive.”
The Mohawks, who haven’t lost since Dec. 22 (at National Trail), got 20 points and eight boards from Grant Whisman. Cameron Morgan tossed in 15 points, and Levi McMonigle and Ben Paarlberg added 9 and 8, respectively.
McMonigle, Matt Gomia and Ryan Duritsch all had five rebounds. Mason Whiteman (five), Tristan Sipple (four) and Morgan (three) led the way in assists.
Tuesday’s game was a special one for Madison coach Jeff Smith, the head coach at Middletown Christian for nine seasons in the 1980s and ’90s.
“I love Middletown Christian. It’s a big part of my past,” Smith said. “I think Jason’s doing a terrific job. I think he’s got a bright future here. I know he’s got some kids banged up, and that’s really hurt them. We definitely didn’t want to rub their nose in it. We tried real hard not to do that.
“We’ve been playing them for a long, long stretch, and we haven’t always been on the winning side of this. If they want to keep playing, we’re always happy to do it. We like their kids, and Jason’s one of my dearest friends.”
Smith said he started Paarlberg because of his work ethic and positive approach to the team. McMonigle has taken most of the minutes at center since becoming eligible in Game 12, greatly decreasing the playing time for Paarlberg and fellow senior Kevin Duritsch.
“Ben and Kevin have been so supportive and such great teammates,” Smith said. “They’re an important part of our team.”
The Mohawks are 8-1 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division and looking to hold off Preble Shawnee (6-2) and Northridge (6-2) in the title chase. Madison has beaten both squads, but still must play both on the road.
“We didn’t have to kill ourselves tonight to win, which is good going into a really tough one Friday,” said Smith, whose team will host Waynesville. “Our last three conference games are going to be league championship games. If we want to win this thing, we’re going to have to show up every time.”
The Eagles lost to Oyler 72-55 on Monday, with Crider calling it “probably our worst game of the year.” So he was happy to see MCS finish with a flourish against Madison.
“I was proud of their effort,” Crider said. “They had every opportunity to just throw in the towel, and they just don’t do that. We play hard enough to beat anybody, but we don’t always play smart enough. We’re scoring enough points consistently to win with our read-and-react offense, but we’re giving up too many points.”
Crider was the head coach at Preble Shawnee for three seasons before going to Bellbrook as an assistant last year. He still teaches at Bellbrook.
“I was planning on being an assistant for a while,” Crider said. “As a Christian, I just feel God 100 percent sent me here. When I talked to the people here, I said, ‘I can’t promise you’re going to get the best coach that’s interviewed, but you’re going to get the hardest-working coach.’ ”
Turnovers have been a problem for Middletown Christian, but that area is improving. The Eagles opened the year with a 1-9 record.
“Being my first year here, I don’t know what the expectations were,” Crider said. “Things are happening each game where you can see the positives. The parents and administration are unbelievable here. They see those things. They’re not afraid to tell you, ‘We see a glimpse of where this team is headed.’ ”
MCS made a run to the D-IV district finals in 2015-16. Could that happen this year?
“I think the kids are believing,” Crider said. “I think they’re all feeling that this is a similar vibe to that team, a group that’s starting to find their identity late in the year. We’ve got five or six pieces in place that when they’re all clicking, I’ll put us up against anybody on our schedule. But if we get one or two of those pieces off, anybody can beat us.”
Middletown Christian 8-8-8-26—50
MADISON (15-3): Cameron Morgan 6 0 15, Ben Paarlberg 4 0 8, Grant Whisman 7 3 20, Levi McMonigle 4 1 9, Tristan Sipple 1 2 5, Ryan Duritsch 3 0 6, Matt Gomia 1 0 3, Jake Phelps 1 0 2. Totals: 27-6-68
MIDDLETOWN CHRISTIAN (4-13): Dre Shores 8 0 19, Jeremy Lindenschmidt 3 0 6, Seth Wolfenbarger 2 0 4, Koen Yee 1 2 4, Jarod Hamlin 2 6 11, Alan Holtrey 1 0 2, Jonah Crawford 2 0 4. Totals: 19-8-50
3-pointers: MA 8 (Morgan 3, Whisman 3, Sipple, Gomia), MC 4 (Shores 3, Hamlin)