Pair of Aces: Carter, Fletcher stack deck in Ironton’s favorPublished 1:54am Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Contrary to the rules of poker, there is a time when a pair beats a full house.
But only when that pair is a pair of aces and the aces are Zac Carter and Trey Fletcher.
The duo have been four-year starters and are at the focal point of Ironton’s success the past two seasons, especially this year as they’ve helped lead Ironton to its third Final Four appearance.
Reaching the state tournament has been a long-time goal for the Fighting Tigers’ senior pair of standouts and has kept them focused.
“My freshman year is when I really started (working toward the Final Four). I learned how everything worked and about Fighting Tiger basketball,” said Carter.
“Coming up as a freshman I got to play with a lot of great players like Timmy Kochendoerfer. They taught me a lot about what it’s like to be an Ironton Fighting Tiger.”
Ironton (23-2) is riding a 17-game winning streak into the state semifinal game against Ottawa-Glandorf (24-3) at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.
“Our goals have always been making it to the Schott and get a banner for coach (Mark LaFon) because he’s worked so hard for it. We’ve made it but we’re not done,” said Fletcher. “We just have to play our game but a little harder. Those 50-50 balls we’ve got to have them.”
Even though they have contrasting styles and are nearly a foot different in size, Carter and Fletcher have become synonymous when talking about Ironton’s program. Opposing coaches immediately plan for the duo when preparing to play against the Fighting Tigers and it won’t be any different at the state level.
“It’s hard to put into words what these two have meant to this program,” said LaFon.
“They’ve really grown up over the past four years and they’ve become the leaders of the team. And the big thing is that they lead by example. No one works harder than they do.”
The 5-foot-9 Carter just keeps piling up the honors.
Earlier this season he broke the school’s all-time scoring record held by Dennis Gagai. His 24.1 scoring average earned him the Associated Press Southeast District Player of the Year award and landed him on the Division III AP All-Ohio first team.
Fletcher’s numbers are equally impressive. The 6-6 forward was a first team all-district selection and third team All-Ohio. He averaged 20.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game and he, too, is a member of the 1,000-career point club.
Despite their size difference, both players can knock down the 3-pointer.
There’s a reason the two players have similar qualities and work together so well. They’ve played together since the third grade either on the same youth league team or on a travel all-star team.
“There’s a lot of chemistry. Me and him have been playing together since coach Hoppy (James Hopkins) picked us up for the Southern Ohio Knights I think it was. We just grew up together and played together. Any time we could play, we played,” said Fletcher.
“We’ve got a pick and roll game we like a lot. We know each other because we have a feel for each other. We know where we’re going to be on the court.”
Carter said the pair has almost developed a telepathy usually associated with identical twins.
“I know everything about him and he knows everything about me. I know where he likes the ball and he knows where I like the ball. I know him like I know the back of my hand,” said Carter.
Carter has the ability to hit the trifecta, but he is equally as dangerous with his twisting acrobatic drives to the basket creating an endless number of highlight reels.
Although the bulk of the scoring on his shoulders, Carter shrugs off any pressure that comes with the role.
“I really don’t see it as pressure. I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s my job. I have to score. If I don’t have to score as much, then I have to get my teammates involved,” said Carter.
“I’ve always been able to score in different ways if other people don’t score. I just go out there and play my game and put the ball in the basket.”
Fletcher is content to take advantage of his scoring opportunities when they present themselves.
“I try to get other people open and just screen for them. If my man leaves they dump it to me and it’s easy points. I rebound down low and get all the hustle points,” said Fletcher.
Carter has been entertaining offers from numerous schools including James Madison, Northern Kentucky, Akron and North Florida.
Fletcher is listening to various offers as well from schools such as Rio Grande, West Liberty, Ashland and various NCAA II schools.
As the future begins to unfold, the duo appear to be headed in different directions for the first time in their playing careers.
“There is a possibility we might go somewhere together, but if we go our separate ways I’m always going to be close to him. He’s like my little big brother. I’m always going to be in touch no matter how far we are,” said Carter.
Fletcher was very pragmatic in his approach to the inevitable separation in their careers.
“It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be a good experience,” said Fletcher.
But before Ironton’s pair of aces shuffle off to college, Carter said the team only wants to play the hand it has currently been dealt and that is to play in the Final Four and win a state championship.
“It means a lot to us. This is all we’ve dreamed about. Now it’s finally here and all we have to do is go out on the court and prove we’re the best team in the state of Ohio,” said Carter.