Battle for the MAL
Old Fort has the accolades.
New Riegel has a shot at history.
The Stockaders are 19-2, and a perfect 10-0 in the Midland Athletic League. They also are ranked eighth in Division IV.
And yet, a loss today would put a damper on all that success.
New Riegel is 18-3 overall. It’s only league loss came at Fremont St. Joe. If the visiting Blue Jackets knock off the Stockaders tonight in the regular season finale, they will force a tie for the Midland Athletic League title.
St. Joe also can get a share of the championship if it wins at Carey tonight and Old Fort falls.
The Stockaders have assured themselves a share of the title no matter what happens tonight. But Old Fort coach Eric Hoover said he – and his players – are far from satisfied.
“I think it’s very important,” Hoover said of winning the outright title. “When you share it, I think you leave a little doubt; you debate who’s the best.”
A win tonight for New Riegel would mean it will have won or shared the league title in each of the last four years. The only other MAL team to win four straight was Old Fort, from 1994-1997.
Hoover was on some of those OF teams.
New Riegel coach Todd Aichholz said winning a league title has been on his players’ minds since before the season.
“You set down goals, that was one of our goals,” he said. “We knew we still had control of our own destiny [after the loss to St. Joe] as far as reaching our goals. Our kids are goal-driven.”
New Riegel has the league’s leading scorer in Brandyn Reinhart, who is also third in the league in rebounding. Reinhart has scored 452 points this season, averaging 21.5 a game. He’s averaging eight boards a contest.
Hoover said he has been really impressed with Reinhart.
“He outworks people he’s playing against,” Hoover said. “But even when he misses a shot, he’s gonna outwork you to get it back until he scores. I’ve seen him a few times, he just outworks (his opponents). That mindset … has made him be very successful.”
But both coaches said New Riegel’s success was due to more than just Reinhart,
“As the season’s worn on, we’re getting more and more contributions around the team; that’s what we’re looking for,” Aichholz said. “Brandyn’s gonna get his numbers, but everyone else (is) chipping in.”
Cory Williams is averaging almost 12 points a game. He’s second in the league behind Old Fort’s Cole Davidson in 3-pointers made. Nick Wank is third in the league in assists, and Jake Dryfuse is averaging more than five rebounds a game.
“They have a cohesiveness,” Hoover said of New Riegel. “They know where each other’s going on the floor. They have a team bond that makes them want to be better.”
Much like Old Fort.
“It’s very similar to us,” Hoover said. “We have a solid core group of seniors that have played together. Throw Hunter [Perry, a junior] into that … [we] channel the cohesiveness in the same way.”
Old Fort is led by a trio of big-time contributors.
Davidson is third in the league in scoring average (17.6 ppg.), while Dalton Perry is third in total points (362). Hunter Perry also is among the league leaders in scoring, averaging more than 16 points a game.
“They have so many weapons,” Aichholz said. “You’re not sure which one (between Davidson and the Perrys) is their best as times. You have a supporting cast beside them … it’s a very balanced team, tough to defend.”
Both coaches said neither team could afford to get out of its style or have the game dictated to it; Hoover and Aichholz said they have tried to approach today like any other game.
“If you want to win an [outright] MAL championship you have to win them all,” Hoover said. “Some hurdles are bigger than others. This is one, no doubt, we figured would be one of the biggest ones.”
Hoover said New Riegel’s defense is tenacious.
“You have to be aggressive against an aggressive defense,” Hoover said. “Otherwise they’ll dictate everything you. They have to come up with a strategy to guard us because we have a lot of scorers.”
Aichholz said his team’s cohesion has stretched to the defensive side of the ball.
“Defense comes down to, you need five solid guys on the floor at all times, five guys on the same page,” he said. “Everyone knows what their job is and the rotation is pretty solid.”
Hoover said he expects New Riegel to come out motivated, and said his team needs to match that.
“I’m sure they’re tired of hearing about us,” he said. “I know what it’s like, and the type of intensity that can bring out in you. [We] have to match that intensity.”