Mohawk puts Hammer to Red Devils

Stickback at the buzzer stuns Arlington, sends Warriors to their first regional appearance

PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO Mohawk's Kaiden Hammer drives past Arlington's Caleb Price during the Division IV district final in Fostoria Friday.

FOSTORIA — Zach Hayman probably would have liked to have convinced viewers it was a pass. But honesty had already taken over and the smile on his face would have belied any other version.

No, that was clearly a contested shot he took that fell short of the rim and into the waiting hands of teammate Kaiden Hammer. His putback barely beat the buzzer to give Mohawk a 62-60 win over Arlington at Fostoria High School here Friday night and gain the school’s first boys basketball district championship.

The Warrior magical history-making tour is going to take them away to Bowling Green State University Tuesday for a 6:15 p.m. regional semifinal test against Blanchard Valley Conference champion Pandora-Gilboa. The Rockets (24-1) beat Kalida 56-33 Friday to advance.

Arlington had battled back from a 14-point deficit early in the second period to take its only lead at 53-52 on Jaret Vermillion’s three free throws with 4:40 to go. Hayman, who had enough shots find the rim that he led all scorers with 22 points, put the Warriors back on top with two straight drives.

But no one was running away any more in this one and when Arlington’s Jacob Russell zipped a pass to Ivan Berry for an inside hoop, the game was tied at 60 with seven seconds left.

The Warriors (19-6) advanced and got a timeout with 2.9 seconds left to set the final play.

“I shot the ball, double-clutched, missed it bad,” Hayman said. “And Kaiden got the rebound, er, got the pass I’ll call it and he put it in.”

“I was waiting to celebrate after he made it,” Hammer said. “I realized it was a little short and thought I’d take my shot.”

As is often the case, Warrior coach Paul Dunn said his play didn’t quite work as drawn.

“The plan was to run a little wheel play to get our guards going toward the basket,” Dunn said. “We told them after the timeout that you have time to put the ball on the ground and maybe take two or three dribbles in three seconds.

“I didn’t plan on taking a dribble, a missed shot and a putback, though,” he said. “That worked out for us.”

It was, however, the very nightmare Red Devil coach Jason Vermillion envisioned.

“At the timeout, I said we’ve got to make sure the ball doesn’t go toward the rim and I said the shot that’s going to beat you is a putback,” Vermillion said. “(It was) one of the little plays that got broken, guys were scattered and we weren’t able to get a body on him and the kid made a play.”

The game had a much different look early.

Mohawk’s Ryan Lacey missed a 3-point try on the game’s first possession. The significance of that is it was the Warriors’ only long-range miss of the first period and Lacey’s only such miss of the night.

Mohawk’s 7-for-8 effort from 3-point range opened a 25-14 lead after one. Lacey hit three of them in the quarter and five straight for the night to finish with 15 points. The Warriors made 11 of 17 3-pointers for the game.

“Coach always tells us to never let the first shot determine the game and I never have,” Lacey said. “My job is to go out and shoot. If I miss the first one, the next one’s automatically going and that’s the only way I feel about it.

“Our guys will always find that open guy,” he said. “That happened to be me and I just did my job and put them in.”

Hammer, who scored 11 points, and Hayman each had two from long range in that fast start. Early in the second period, senior post Chris Klopp (10 points) got involved as Mohawk pushed to a 33-19 lead.

“Ryan Lacey and Kaiden Hammer — and Zach made some big plays for us, too — but those other two guys have put in a lot of work the last two or three weeks to try and get their shots back to where they were at the beginning of the season,” Dunn said.

“I’m so glad it showed up for them tonight,” he said. “That really opened up the driving lanes for us whenever we got in transition for Zach to do some damage. And Chris Klopp, it’s hard to describe what he does for us in the paint in terms of getting rebounds and just causing chaos down there for us.”

But the Red Devils, who rallied to beat Old Fort 62-56 Tuesday night, had a comeback in them Friday as well.

Jaret Vermillion, the coach’s son, scored nine of his team-high 19 points in the final 4:32 of the second period to help Arlington pull within 35-30 at the break.

The Warriors went ahead by nine twice in the third period but Berry and Russell, who scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, and Caleb Price, whose nine points came on 3-pointers, kept Arlington in range. A 3-pointer by Ty Webb to close the third trimmed the lead to 49-45 and the fourth-quarter battle was set.

“Those guys made plays at the beginning of the half to set the tone, but our kids showed some toughness and perseverance, were resilient and got ourselves to a lead,” Jason Vermillion said. “We just couldn’t muster up a stop or two in-a-row to sustain what we had fought back for.”

Instead, the Warriors, who have won 11 of their last 12, including six straight since a two-point loss to Northern 10 Athletic Conference champion Upper Sandusky three weeks ago, are riding high.

“Unbelievable. We tell the kids all the time don’t take anything for granted,” Dunn said. “You never know what the future holds. If you have a chance to win a title, go get it.

“These guys are just playing day by day, game by game and we’re excited,” he said. “Warrior Country was out loud and proud tonight, so I’m excited to see what they look like at BG.”