Seniors keyed Ironton’s runPublished 1:08am Monday, March 25, 2013
COLUMBUS — It has been quite a run for the Ironton Fighting Tigers this basketball season, especially the team’s seven senior members.
The senior class of Trey Fletcher, Zac Carter, Josh Glover, Aaron Stephens, Trevor White, Darrius Boykin and Jalen Schweickart were part of a four-year run that posted a 77-21 record, three district titles and a state semifinal appearance.
Only the 2002-05 Dennis Gagai-led group has put up more successful numbers with an 85-15 record, a school record for wins at 26-1 (2005) and a state runner-up banner.
Ironton lost a heartbreaker 61-60 in overtime to eventual state champion Ottawa-Glandorf in the Division III state semifinals Thursday. Despite the loss, it only added to the group’s list of accomplishments.
But all those numbers were only secondary as head coach Mark LaFon cited other areas that made this a unique group.
“To watch them grow up into fine young men, to watch them change their GPA (grade point average) in their classes, to messing around as freshmen and sophomores, to my entire team going from a 3.01 GPA to this class here to 3.4, as a group of varsity players, to watch them change their whole attitude and culture in the school and the athletic department, to me, that’s what defines a group overall,” said LaFon.
“Now it would have been nice (to win the state title) – we come here to play basketball and not get academic awards — I want to make sure that I say they’ve grown up in character, in class, and I know they’re going to do real good things in this world and that’s what high school sports is all about.”
LaFon referred to the group as his boys, but as he sat at the interview room table flanked by four-year starters and All-Ohioans Carter and Fletcher, he had to change his viewpoint on their growth status.
“I guess I’m going to have to start calling them young men instead of my boys,” said LaFon.
After praising his players, LaFon took a moment to congratulate Ottawa-Glandorf.
“Hats off to Ottawa-Glandorf. They are a very fine team and well-coached. They earned every inch of that (win),” said LaFon.
But he quickly turned back to his team.
“I want to say I’m blessed to be able to coach the young men that I coached and the town that allows me to do it. I appreciate that.”
It was a difficult time to talk about his team or his players to talk about the game. Ironton had a six-point lead with 48 seconds left in regulation only to the O-G tie the game and force the overtime.
He could easily have just waited from O-G coach Tyson McGlaughlin to send him a “thank you” card for the gift win. McGlaughlin came as close as he could to praising Ironton’s effort when he talked about the late fourth quarter rally.
“The momentum shifted. Obviously, they were getting comfortable and they were getting excited,” said McGlaughlin.
The final 48 seconds were big, but there were other moments that loomed even bigger but were glossed over because of the game’s finish.
White played only 18 minutes of the 36, yet he had 14 points. No other player was in foul trouble.
In fact, White went out with 6:42 in the first half after Ironton had built an 11-point lead that was cut to six.
His fourth foul in the third quarter was questionable at best. He established his position and the Titans’ T.J. Metzger took two dribbles and jumped into White who not only didn’t reach forward, but actually tried to draw the charge by falling backwards.
Metzger missed the shot and there should have been no whistle. The worst scenario would have been a charge, but not a foul. A foul was called.
And so it went.
The seniors, coaches, other players and fans will replay the game over and over in their minds. But they should also take time to rewind the past four years and the many highlights they have accomplished on and off the court.
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.