NEW MADISON, Ohio
Tommy Bell, Mason McCabe and Tyler VanWinkle played mostly junior varsity last year for the Tri-Village High School boys basketball program.
Damion Cook and Colton Linkous came off the varsity bench.
Tyler Cook was the only returning starter — but it was no secret.
After falling in last year’s regional tournament — regardless of the graduation of five seniors — the Tri-Village boys basketball team’s expectations remained the same.
“Outsiders that aren’t really in our program didn’t think we’d be that good, but we came in this year knowing that we have the pieces to be pretty good this year,” said Linkous, a junior who leads this year’s varsity squad with 19.7 points per game.
“We always have high expectations from coach, and he got us fired up over the summer. We all worked hard at it, put in the time, and it’s showing right now that we put in the time.”
The hard work has been no secret in a historically strong program. And once again, it’s paid off.
For the second time in boys basketball history, the Patriots are in Ohio’s Division IV final four.
The Division IV No. 2-ranked Patriots (26-1) will play the only remaining undefeated team in the state, No. 1-ranked Convoy Crestview (27-0), 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the OHSAA state semifinals, held in Value City Arena at Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (17-11) faces No. 4 Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (26-1) in the 5:15 semifinal that night. The state championship is 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“The community support’s been great and couldn’t get any better,” said Tyler Cook, one of two seniors. “But it’s time to get back to business and start to prepare for the next couple games we’ve got ahead of us and go from there.”
Tri-Village punched its ticket to Columbus with last week’s 62-44 regional championship victory over Marion Local.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Tri-Village coach Josh Sagester said. “It’s been everything I thought it would be and then some. The support of the community has been second to none. We had a final four party on Saturday evening; the whole cafeteria was decorated. … The support has been phenomenal.”
But the players remain hungry, and Sagester said they were focused during Monday’s practice.
“I’m sure this week’s going to be pretty hectic. We had our fun with it, but it’s time to get back to work and focus on that semifinal game,” junior Damion Cook said.
” … I think we had a really good practice (Monday). We were in here on Saturday and Sunday working on our shot and getting our legs under us, and today we got after it.”
The Patriots advanced to state in 1991, winning the semifinal game before falling in the state championship game to St. Henry.
Scoob Cook, the father of Damion Cook and uncle of Tyler Cook, was on that team.
Tri-Village also advanced its girls team to state in 2012, led by Colton Linkous’ sister Kayla Linkous.
And the Patriot boys have been knocking on the door since that 1991 season.
They won a second straight district championship and the second regional title in program history this season.
The Patriots have never won a team state title in any sport.
Tyler Cook averages 18.7 points per game and Damion Cook adds 16.3 per contest.
Damion Cook leads with 12 rebounds per game, Tyler Cook brings down 8.5 boards a contest and Linkous about 6.
VanWinkle dishes out 7.7 assists per game, and senior Bell is usually dealt the task of guarding the opposing team’s top player. McCabe is the Patriots’ sixth man.
“Last year after we got beat in the regional semifinals, it really hurt us quite a bit,” Bell said. “We all sat in the locker room and just thought, ‘What do we have to do to get better and get back to where we got to be?’
” …We got to the regional game and got over that mountain and just got better. Now we’re not satisfied until we get the state championship.”