Not many predicted that Evergreen would win the Northwest Ohio Athletic League boys basketball title.
Nevertheless, that became a reality Friday with a win over Archbold. The Vikings opened up a close game after halftime, defeating preseason league favorite Archbold 49-35 before a jam-packed house at Evergreen, and staking a claim to at least a share of the 2020 NWOAL title.
The victory was number 362 in Viking coach Jerry Keifer’s Hall of Fame qualifying career, and amongst his many accolades, marked his and the program’s third league title.
But postgame Keifer deferred attention to his team and the decibel-splitting Viking crowd, that included a student section that didn’t have a seat filled because they were on their feet all night.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Keifer said of the Viking crowd. “I can’t say enough about the community and everyone who came out and suppported us. The student body that all wore ‘This Is Our House’ shirts. It really makes a difference when you have that many people yelling and screaming for you. Tonight I think it really played a part of a big win. The kids were into it, as was everybody on the other side of the gym across from us.”
Nate Brighton and Mason Loeffler evenly split 12 early points to give Evergreen a 12-4 lead with 2:00 left in the first before the Blue Streaks battled back…mainly in the form of Elijah Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s spin move before the end of the first, then 3-pointer that opened the second brought Archbold within three.
Jack Etue found Mason Loeffler inside to bump the Vikes back up 14-9 but Archbold caught Evergreen in a cold streak from the foul line and Zimmerman’s coast-to-coast jaunt to the rim after a turnover gave Archbold a 16-15 lead with 5:04 left in the half.
Evan Lumbrezer turned the corner on a drive to regain a 17-16 Viking lead but Zimmerman’s spin to the cup with 2:15 left got Archbold even at 18-18.
“It was a slow pace and we got caught standing in the first half,” Keifer said of the low point totals. “I think we made the proper adjustments at the half to get us more involved offensively.”
All year long the Vikings have had big performances seven deep in the roster and this time it was Ethan Loeffler that began a 15-minute burst that ignited an Evergreen run.
The sophomore lefty meshed a left-side triple with 1:29 left in the second to give the Vikes a lead they never let go.
It was Ethan Loeffler once, then twice and a third time getting to the rim for baskets in the third.
Mason Loeffler slash through the right side and Brighton’s bucket from Lumbrezer countered a pair of Zimmerman baskets for the Streaks, giving Evergreen a 31-22 lead heading into the fourth.
“I was really happy with the way we defended in the third quarter,” expressed Keifer of holding Archbold to four points. “We stayed in front and contested everything well.”
In the fourth the Vikings were working in perfect effeciency as they went 7-for-7 from the floor with seven assists.
Lumbrezer found Mason Loeffler for a score, and the 6’5” Brighton went to the point and five times found teammates for easy baskets, twice each finding Etue and Ethan Loeffler for layups that opened the Vikings’ lead to as large as 39-23 with three minutes left.
“That was the formula for beating Cardinal Stritch,” Keifer said of the move to put Brighton up top. “Evan was comfortable enough bringing the ball up, but in Nate I think it gave them a look that was different and he took control of the offense and got the ball to open people.”
While Evergreen was scoring on nearly every possession, Archbold struggled from the floor, shooting just 25 percent in the second half, with the Vikings holding the Streaks to one-and-done the majority of the time.
Alex Roth’s 3-pointer and a basket from Noah Gomez got Archbold to within 10 with 49 seconds left but Mason Loeffler’s slam off a turnover provided the exclamation point to the victory that pushed Evergreen’s record to 19-1 on the season.
During the season, Keifer has used one word as a descriptive to his team’s play – connected.
Keifer has said that his team “loves playing together and you can tell.”
“I think defensively in the second half we were really connected,” explained Keifer. “We have two guys who are athletic as heck and block a lot of stuff, we have people who can get in passing lanes and create havoc. We were really good that first quarter and a half of the second half (when Archbold scored just three field goals) and our kids were just getting more and more energy because they were getting stops.
“What a great feeling,” exclaimed Keifer. “What a great feeling for the seniors and all the kids. This is something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Anytime you can put a banner up means the world.
“We aren’t done yet though. We have a game Monday against Stryker and another big one against Bryan here next Friday.”
Evergreen shot 55 percent in the game that included that 7-for-7 in the fourth quarter. Archbold hit just 33 percent.
The Vikings held a 27-16 advantage on the glass.
Zimmerman led all scorers, getting 20 of the Streaks’ 35 points.
Mason Loeffler had 16 to lead Evergreen. Ethan Loeffler added a career-high of 14 and Brighton kicked in with 10, 15 rebounds and six assists.
“It all started with the three he hit at the end of the first half,” Keifer said of his sophomore forward’s big night. “After that he had chances and he took advantage and went and got some, and it seemed every time he got one it answered one they just got. Those were big huge buckets.”
The Vikings close the regular season with a chance to grab the NWOAL title outright against Bryan Friday night.
Archbold (15-6, 5-1 NWOAL) travels to Swanton (8-12, 2-4) Friday.
Reach Joe Blystone at email@example.com