- By Rick Cassano Staff Writer
Franklin High School remains in the driver’s seat for its seventh straight Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division boys basketball title, thanks to a home-court gut check.
The Wildcats rallied from an 11-point deficit, scored the game’s last 5 points and fought off visiting Monroe 55-52 on Friday night to remain alone atop the Southwestern standings.
“We just had to get this one done tonight,” said senior Jared Kinzer, whose 3-pointer with 18.8 seconds left gave the hosts a 53-52 lead. “My emotions were like a roller coaster tonight. But I knew that our team could come through in the end and get the W.”
Kinzer celebrated his 18th birthday with 18 points and nine rebounds for Franklin, which improved to 13-3 overall and 7-1 in the SWBL.
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
Payton Knott, playing at less than 100 percent because of a knee problem, added 10 points, five steals and three assists to the winning effort. Braden Hall marked 9 points and seven boards, and Cole Bundren chipped in 9 points.
“Hats off to Monroe. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best game, and they played great tonight,” Wildcats coach Brian Bales said. “Championship teams just find a way to win. We believe in our culture, and these guys found a way.”
Franklin struggled to beat the Hornets 48-43 on Jan. 5 and had to dig deep to sweep the season series, with Monroe slipping to 5-10, 3-6.
It was a familiar tale of misery for the Hornets, who have lost eight games by 5 points or less this year.
“As a player and a coach, I’ve never been a part of a team that’s lost so many games in heartbreak fashion like this,” Monroe coach Kenny Molz said. “One of the hardest things to change in a program that’s not used to winning consistently is learning how to win and finish games, especially when you’re playing a lot of young guys.
“But that was one of the most complete games I’ve been a part of in this program. I’m proud of these guys. They have worked so hard and so diligently in practice for me throughout the season after tough losses, and I know they’ll do it again next week.”
Turnovers stung the Hornets, who more than tripled Franklin (19-6) in that category. Monroe’s last turnover came in the final 10 seconds as Knott made a steal with the Wildcats leading 53-52.
Zack Minton sank a pair of free throws with 4.0 on the clock to make it 55-52, and the Hornets’ Tristan Backas missed a shot at the buzzer.
His feet were very close to the 3-point line, and neither coach knew if the shot was a 2 or a 3. The misfire made it a moot point.
“Thank God for that boy,” Kinzer said of Knott, the reigning SWBL Southwestern Player of the Year. “That’s my dude. Me and him have just been grinding throughout the season. I’m glad he made that play.”
Franklin’s defensive intensity picked up after halftime. The hosts trailed 27-16 with two minutes left in the half and 29-24 at the break. They were behind 50-43 in the last two minutes of the game.
Monroe committed 11 turnovers in the second half.
“Franklin’s very good at doing that to teams,” Molz said. “A lot of the close games they win, they rely on turning you over. They can get in your psyche a little bit and I think that’s what happened, especially toward the end of the game.”
Said Bales, “What we’re having trouble with right now is we’re turning teams over and getting stops, but then we can’t go down and score off of those. We missed at least five layups that weren’t very contested.”
The Wildcats coach liked a lot of what he saw down the stretch, even though Franklin went down 52-50 when the Hornets’ Nick Osterman converted a layup with 37.4 seconds left.
“The last couple timeouts we had were player-led,” Bales said. “I think the best teams are player-led, and it was neat to see them leading the charge and having ownership of things.”
Bales had special praise for Bundren, who buried a key 3-pointer with 1:51 left after a lengthy stint on the bench because of a head injury. By the time he left Darrell Hedric Gym after the game, Bundren was sporting stitches in his forehead.
Sophomore Sam Jeffers (15) and freshman Marty Zumbiel (9) led the scoring for Monroe. Backas had 8 points (all in the fourth quarter) and nine rebounds, while Jeffers grabbed eight boards and added three assists.
The Hornets were 6 of 9 at the foul line. The Wildcats were 12 of 17.
“We had some guys step up tonight,” Molz said. “It’s very exciting to see some of those younger guys come in and not have the moment be too big for them.
“I was really nervous a couple weeks ago that these guys would start quitting and going away, but their character has shown otherwise, and that’s something they can take with them after basketball for the rest of their lives. I know they know that we’re very close to turning the corner. It may not be this year, but it’s definitely going to be sooner than later.”
Both teams will play Tuesday, Franklin at Springboro and Monroe at home against Waynesville.
MONROE (5-10, 3-6 SWBL Southwestern): Tristan Backas 3 1 8, Nick Osterman 2 0 4, Shawn Poindexter 1 0 2, Sam Jeffers 6 2 15, Marty Zumbiel 3 1 9, Will DeBord 1 2 5, Tyler Hendricks 1 0 3, Matt DeHart 2 0 6. Totals: 19-6-52
FRANKLIN (13-3, 7-1 SWBL Southwestern): Jared Kinzer 7 2 18, Payton Knott 3 3 10, Zack Minton 1 3 6, Cole Bundren 4 0 9, Cody Spencer 0 1 1, Ryan Russell 1 0 2, Braden Hall 3 3 9. Totals: 19-12-55
3-pointers: M 8 (DeHart 2, Zumbiel 2, DeBord, Backas, Hendricks, Jeffers), F 5 (Kinzer 2, Knott, Minton, Bundren)