Eli Keifer’s last-minute triple gives Evergreen coach career win number 400

By Joe Blystone - For the Expositor

If Evergreen coach Jerry Keifer expressed adjectives or gave out grades for his team’s performance against Otsego well…the adjectives couldn’t be printed and the grades might make Vikings in danger of being all benched at the same time.

However, the Vikings overcame a horrible shooting night, 15 turnovers and giving up 13 offensive rebounds by coming back from a six-point deficit in the last two minutes, capped by Eli Keifer’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to score a 44-42 win over the Knights in boys basketball Tuesday.

The victory was number 400 in Coach Keifer’s illustrious career, all of those victories coming at Evergreen to make him what is reported to be just the 137th coach in the history of Ohio high school basketball to accomplish that feat.

“I guess it means I haven’t done a whole lot of dumb things to be in the same place for so long to get 400 wins,” Keifer said after. “The way social media is today, I think for any coach the bigger accomplishment is to be the head coach at a school for more than 30 years. It’s unheard of now. A lot of places it’s two years and let’s try something new.

“We’ve had a lot of good teams; teams that have advanced deep in the tournament. A lot of fun.”

The Vikings shot just 3-10 in the first quarter and were even worse in the second, shooting just 29% in the first half.

The Vikings offset Jack Simpson’s 10 first half points with nine Drew Gillen points, and Keifer’s last-second triple to take a 22-19 lead at the half.

Blade Walker’s three quick hoops in the third, along with another Keifer triple vaulted the Vikings into a 31-23 lead, but the Vikings went stone cold, missing their next six attempts in a five minute span in the third.

Drew Gase threw in a three, and buckets from Owen Atkinson and Cohen Feehan inside brought the Knights into a 31-31 tie before Gillen scored with 30 seconds left in the quarter to give Evergreen a two-point lead heading into the fourth.

Three straight Simpson hoops pushed the Knights ahead 37-33.

Walker found Gillen inside for a three-point play to chop the margin to a point but Owen Weaver knocked in a triple and baseline jumper to push Otsego ahead 42-36.

With 2:18 left, the Vikings found one last push, involving a number of heroes.

Tyson Woodring hit nothing but the bottom of the well on a left-wing triple, then after a turnover, Ben Ruetz gobbled up Gillen’s miss inside for a stickback to make it 42-41.

The Vikings harassed the Knights into another turnover with just over a minute left and with 45 ticks to go, Keifer bagged the big one from above the right of the top of the key to give Evergreen a 44-42 lead.

After a timeout, Otsego tried to work to Simpson — who had 16 points on the night — but Walker fleeced the Knights big for a steal and the last of Otsego’s 20 turnovers.

After a series of fouls to get Evergreen into the one-and-bonus, Keifer’s first rolled around and off the rim giving the Knights a last chance.

Simpson had a shot in traffic that was off and the tip went wide to preserve the historic victory.

Gillen had a huge night for the Vikes, scoring 14 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Keifer had 11.

Evergreen was just 16-45 from the field, while Otsego was 18-46.

As for the 400 wins, Keifer started just 30-52 his first four years before beginning a string of 15-plus win seasons that also included a number of 20 victory years, and remembered the turning point in the program.

“We were down 20 at Emmanuel Baptist (now called Emmanuel Christian and a team that featured former West Virginia great Lionel Armstead),” Keifer recalled. “We came all the way back and Brooks Miller tipped one in at the buzzer for the win and that team went on to the regional that season and the rest is history.”

That was the first of 14 sectional titles, four district titles, a trip to the Elite 8, which that season still hasn’t ended with a loss because of the Covid year, and four league titles.

“I guess once I’m done and I look back and see I won over 400 games, I guess it’ll be a bigger thing than it is tonight.”

The Vikings are now 3-1 on the season and are off until next Tuesday when they travel to Ottawa Hills.


By Joe Blystone

For the Expositor