SPARTA — When the Buckeye Valley Barons (2-0, 1-0 MOAC) got off the bus in Sparta on Thursday evening, they had a reputation for being one of the very best teams in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference. Later, when they boarded the bus to go home, their reputation remained intact.
In the interim, they took the Highland Fighting Scots (0-2, 0-1 MOAC) apart, 58-31, to open the conference season for both teams.
For the young Scots, it was a chance grow as a team. For the Barons, it was step one on the road to what they hope will be a league title.
“We do try to play to our strengths,” said Buckeye Valley coach Donovan Barrett, whose team got out to a 23-5 lead to start the game. “We try to get up and down the floor and push the tempo, especially against a well-coached team like Highland. If you let them do what they want, you’re not going to win. We were able to do what we wanted and that’s why we won the game.”
Doing what they wanted meant that the Barons beat the Scots to the ball on both ends of the floor, robbing them of the ball, time and again to total 16 steals for the game. Caleb Green led the Barons with four. The Scots turned the ball over 21 times to the Barons’ seven.
“(Buckeye Valley has) three starters back from last year,” said Highland coach Mike Hoyng. “They’ve got varsity experience. They’re very tough physically and they are a very quality basketball team. I said all year that they are going to be the best team in the league and they played like it tonight.”
The Scots had a trio of shooters with six points for the game — Curtis Belcher and Payton Woodruff, who were both 2-for-8 from 3-point range; and Jett Swetland, who hit 3-of-6 from the floor. Woodruff also had four of the Scots six assists. The Barons, who were up 36-12 at the half, were led by Zach Hassinger who had 24 points for the game.
The Scots will need to learn to control the basketball. They will also need to grow.
“What are you going to do,” said Hoyng. “We’ve got young kids. Hopefully, we’ll learn to get a little better. I’m disappointed with parts of our game. There were some parts that were okay but, overall, we need to just improve. Sometime, down the road, the work we are putting in here will pay off for us and help us be successful.”
Highland made a little noise in the fourth quarter as the defense tightened up, allowing the Barons only eight fourth-quarter points while the Scots scored nine. Swetland, meanwhile, led the Scots with seven of the Scots’ 24 rebounds. The Barons pulled down 30 rebounds as a team.
The Scots trailed by as much as 32 points late in the game. Junior Justin Deckling hit a 3-pointer to close out the scoring.
“They’re a physical team,” said Barrett about the Scots. “They got us to take some rushed shots and that’s that they want you to do is take some impatient shots.”
The Scots have to move on and take the painful steps that come with growing.
“Right now, we’ve got to grow,” said Hoyng. “We need to take each time out as a learning lesson and try to get better each day in practice.”