HANOVERTON-When you are in the middle of a rebuilding project like the United boys basketball team is, there are bound to be nights like Friday.
After winning three games the previous two seasons, coach Matt Mowery returned returned four starters, but it made no difference as West Branch routed the Eagles from start to finish 73-34 in the season-opener for both teams at United High School.
"First game jitters I guess," Mowery said. "We had a good preseason so it was unfortunate how we played tonight. We're disappointed with the effort."
Defensively, the Warriors (1-0) went into a full-court press right away, and simply overwhelmed the Eagles (0-1), holding them scoreless until the three minute mark of the first quarter on their way to a 23-3 lead. United struggled mightily with turnovers the whole night. Forward Jake Evanoff and guard Jerion Thomas fueled the Warrior effort with five and six steals respectively.
"We couldn't get off to a slow start and we did," Mowery said. "When you dig yourself a 20-point hole there is not much you can do except slowly try and claw your way back."
"I was very happy with our effort and overall attitude," West Branch coach Lou Sellaroli said. "I think we cover more ground defensively than we did last year and are quicker in transition, both of which we did very well tonight. It all started with defense. We were able to extend the floor and take advantage of our quickness."
Offensively, the Warriors could not have hoped for a more balanced output, as nine of the 11 players who saw action scored. Leading the way was forward Matt Meiter with 16 points on the strength of three early three pointers. Kip DeShields controlled the backboards with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Thomas had a strong all-around game with 8 points 5 rebounds, six steals and six assists.
"Jerion did a good job of drawing my man inside and finding me in the corner," Meiter said. "It was great to come out strong like we did tonight."
"Hitting those early perimeter shot really helped open up our half-court game," Sellaroli said. "We worked hard on the boards and we able to get some second-chance points as well."
West Branch used it's size advantage to full effect in the second quarter, as DeSheilds fully asserted himself inside and the lead widened to as much as 27 early in the frame.
"Our box-outs were very solid tonight," DeShields said. "We worked very hard on it in practice and communicated very well as a team."
United found a bit of offense in the second quarter behind senior guard Caleb Conser, who led the Eagles with 12 points. Braden Davison had 10 points, while Eric Blosser had eight rebounds.
"Offensively we had our moments as the night went on, but defensively we didn't accomplish what we set out to do tonight," Mowery said. "We were hoping to compete on that side of the ball and we just didn't get it done, until we play better on defense we are going to struggle."
Coming into the season, Mowery said it was time for his team to start learning what it took to win. The Eagles will bet a quick chance to make some progress when Beaver Local visits tonight. West Branch hosts Ravenna Southeast on Tuesday.
"We have to get much better with our defense and our ball-handling and learn to make better decisions," Mowery said. "We had a lot of new guys play tonight, we'll move on and try to be ready for tomorrow."
West Branch won the jayvee game 47-26. Chipper Tuel had 15 points for the Warriors. Logan Fraas led the Eagles with 10 points.
Before the game, United honored members of its 1973 district champion boys basketball team. The only other boys district title for the Eagles came in 1961.
W. BRANCH: 23-21-15-14-73
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Dustin Greenawalt 3-1-9, Kyle Zeigler 2-0-5, Matt Meiter 6-1-16, Jerian Thomas 4-0-8, Chipper Tuel 0-0-0, Jake Evanoff 4-2-11, Austin Smith 0-0-0, Matt Heffinger 1-2-4, Kip DeShields 5-1-11, Ben Grammer 0-1-1, Brett Fish 1-0-2, Jeremy Gorby 2-2-6.
TEAM TOTALS: 28, 10-22: 73.
UNITED SCORING: Tanner Curfman 1-0-2, Caleb Berdine 1-0-3, Jake Clark 0-3-3, Tucker Widlicka 0-0-0, Matt Blake 0-0-0, Colton Antram 2-0-4, Caleb Conser 5-2-12, Braden Davison 3-4-10, Hayden Wilson 0-0-0, Eric Blosser 0-0-0.
TEAM TOTALS: 12, 9-19: 34.
Three-point goals: West Branch, 7 (Meiter 3, Greenawalt 2, Evanoff, Zeigler) United (Berdine).