Rivalry Still Intense Despite Records

St. Marys’ Braeden Dunlap and Celina’s Kole Murlin jockey for position during a free throw attempt in last season’s Division II sectional semifinal at Findlay High School.
Sports Editor

In a season that many would probably label as a disappointing one, St. Marys Roughriders boys basketball team will have to put all that aside this week in time for the St. Marys-Celina rivalry.

“It is special because it is St. Marys-Celina, but you also have to be able to treat it the same way in practice,” Roughriders coach Craig Szymczak said. “You want to win the game, but you also can’t come in and make it a big deal because you can’t change your focus or change your mindset on what you want to do.”

With only six games remaining in the regular season — and sectional seedings releasing Sunday — a win against Celina might just put this year down as a successful one regardless of how St. Marys (5-10, 1-4 WBL) does the rest of the way.

But, there has been some recent chippiness between these two teams. 

In last year’s regular-season matchup, the Roughriders beat the Bulldogs 56-47, defeating Celina for the first time in 13 years and 12 straight losses. The Bulldogs, however, got revenge on the Riders by knocking them out of the first round of the playoffs in a 57-45 sectional semifinal later that month at Findlay High School.

Two years ago — the last time St. Marys played at the Celina Fieldhouse — the Bulldogs came back to beat the Roughriders. That loss put the Riders’ in a downhill spiral the rest of the way.

And the Roughriders will return to the same field house that ultimately doomed their season in 2016-17.

Despite all the issues the Roughriders have faced throughout the season — a seven-game losing streak, close losses, emotions not kept in check — Celina (5-12, 3-3) comes into Friday’s home match on a five-game losing streak and nine of 10 overall.

“They are a very good rebounding team,” Szymczak said of Celina. “They have some size and experience with (Brett) Schwieterman and (Austin) Okeley playing two or three years.

“They are going to try to be physical down low with Ethan and I can see them doubling down on him.”

Schwieterman leads Celina with 12.3 points per game and has connected on 28 3-pointers, something St. Marys has struggled against throughout the season. Austin Okeley is second on the team with 18 3-pointers.

The Bulldogs have 6-foot-3 Grant Laffin and Max Thobe and 6-foot-4 Drake Langenkamp to match up with St. Marys’ size. Ethan Steger leads St. Marys with 9.1 rebounds per game.

Szymczak said the Bulldogs will play both man and a 1-2-2 zone.

“I think we will see all of that stuff from them,” he said. “I expect them to face guard Carter (Ballweg) and I think they are going to try to do a lot of different things to throw us off.”

The Roughriders have shown that they can play against just about anyone on their schedule, but emotions are getting the best of them. In games against Coldwater and Shawnee, tempers were elevated and in Saturday’s loss to Sidney, Braeden Dunlap was benched for most of the second half. Dunlap was involved in an incident at Celina two years ago when he stepped over a Schwieterman — who drew a charge call against Dunlap — drawing a technical with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter of that game. From there, Celina outscored St. Marys 16-3.

“It is something we are going to have to really make sure we are able to stay together and worry about what we are doing and not what other people are doing,” Szymczak said. “Our student section is going to be rowdy, it is going to be loud and it is going to be an atmosphere that is going to be difficult to deal with it and we have to try to fight through that.

“If we can fight through it, we can come away with a win, but if we can’t and we are not going to be focused, it is going to be a long night.”

After Celina, the Roughriders next five opponents have a combined record of 44-37 — including their final two Western Buckeye League foes in Defiance and Wapakoneta with a combined 22-12. And despite the disappointing results this season, Szymczak still sees a silver lining.

“Keep playing hard and keep improving,” the coach said when asked what he is looking for out of his team the rest of the season. “One thing about basketball compared to, say football, it doesn’t matter what our record is, we still get the opportunity to play in the playoffs. You want to be playing your best ball at the end of the season and we have shown that we can play with anybody.

“If we take these next six games and continue to get better — we are not afraid to play anybody in the playoffs and anything can happen once you get in there.”