By David Fong
DAYTON — In more than two decades of coaching, Allen Mack has learned how to say goodbye at the end of every season.
This may be one of his most difficult farewells, however.
“I’m very proud of all six of these seniors,” the Miami East boys basketball coach said following his team’s 57-37 loss to Summit Country Day in the Division III district finals Tuesday at UD Arena. “It’s difficult for me as a coach; I’ve been coaching these kids since the third grade. It’s not often you hear a varsity coach say that about a group of kids.
“I remember taking these guys to a school team tournament in Cincinnati in the third grade. The majority of these guys were a part of that and have contributed in a number of ways. I love each and every one of them and will miss them — but that’s athletics, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
For Mack and the Miami East faithful, saying goodbye to this group of six seniors — Ryan Haney, Damien Mackesy, Braxton Donaldson, Brandon Mack, Kley Karadak and Michael Werling — will be particularly difficult. This group of Vikings made the trip to the district finals pretty much an annual occurrence, but simply could not get past the road block set up by a host of Cincinnati schools.
“We’ve seen some very, very athletic teams,” Mack said of East’s recent opponents in the district finals — Roger Bacon, Schroeder and Summit Country Day — all schools from the greater Cincinnati area. “This Summit team was also very skilled. I saw where MaxPreps had them ranked No. 4 in the state … you certainly wouldn’t get any argument from me.”
As good as Summit Country Day was Tuesday, however, the Vikings were able to put pressure on the Knights in spurts, cutting sizable Country Day leads into one-possession games on several occasions, but never could quite get over the hump and take the lead.
After Summit Country Day used a 9-0 to open the second quarter en route to a 22-8 lead, Miami East made its move, going on a 12-1 to cut the Knights’ lead to 23-20 with 35 seconds left to play in the half. Leading the charge was Mackesy, who led the Vikings with 13 of his team-high 15 points in the first half.
Summit Country Day would hit a shot at the buzzer, however, to give itself a two-possession lead heading into halftime.
“We went on a number of runs, but unfortunately couldn’t sustain them long enough to take the lead,” Mack said.
Much of that had to do with Summit Country Day’s aggressive defense, which forced 17 Viking turnovers.
“We were not very effective offensively — at least not as much as we usually are,” Mack said. “We made some mistakes. We don’t really keep records on turnovers, but this team had one of the lost turnover (averages) in school history. We were nearly double our average; we usually average nine turnovers per game, or a little under.”
Even so, Miami East still was within striking distance following the third quarter, trailing just 37-30 heading into the final period. But between Alex Dahling, who hit 6-of-11 3-pointers and finished with 18 points, and Sam Martin, who hit eight free throws down the stretch to finish with 11 points, the Knights simply had too much firepower for the Vikings.
“He’s a very good shooter,” Mack said of Dahling. “When I scouted them, I saw them play against Hamilton-Badin and he hit 6-of-10 3-pointers that night. He obviously matched that (Tuesday). And he hit at least two or three of his six 3’s in transition.”
With Summit Country Day’s offense clicking and its defense putting the clamps on the Vikings, what had been a close game turned into a blowout — and a very difficult ending.
“I’m proud of these kids and I can’t say enough about my assistant coaches,” Mack said. “This is a group I’m really going to miss.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong