Pirates seek perfection

By Eric Clutter Record Courier staff writer Published:

Back in 1984-85 Marty Hill's Windham Bombers went undefeated during the regular season and didn't taste their first and only loss until dropping a regional tournament first-round game to Columbus Wehrle.

The Bombers, who were ranked No. 2 in Division IV at the time, ended the season with a 24-1 mark.

"I think we had only one close game that year," reminisced the Windham coach. "We had good chemistry and talented players."

Now 16 seasons later, Hill's Bombers will try to prevent the Southeast Pirates from running the table in the Portage County League regular and postseason when the Bombers play host to the Pirates in Saturday night's PCL championship game at 7:30 p.m.

With a win over Jackson-Milton Tuesday, the Pirates collected their 19th straight win. They finished 13-0 in the PCL. The last team to march through the regular league season without a loss was the 1997-98 Rootstown Rovers, who went on to beat the Field Falcons in the league championship game. A Southeast win would make the Pirates the first team since the '84-85 Bombers to finish 20-0 overall heading into the postseason.

"It's been a dream season and we don't want to wake up from the dream yet," said Southeast coach Bob Dunn in his seventh season at the school. "Twenty-and-0 would be the first time in team history.

"It's been a great ride, but we have one more piece of the puzzle to complete it."

Dunn has coached some talented teams at Southeast, but this one is special.

"The way they play defense, rebound and play together separates them," he said.

The one difference between the two undefeated seasons is that the Bombers' unblemished campaign came when the PCL was one division and each team played a home-and-home series with the other league schools. Now of course, since 1993-94, the league has been split into two divisions. The league will revert to the one-division format starting next fall.

"It's just one game now," said Hill, in his 26th year at Windham. "It's really something to go through the regular season undefeated. I'd like to see them do well _ not on Saturday _ but through the tournament.

"It should be a fun night and playing at home should help."

Like Hill's '84 squad, the Pirates, according to Dunn, really only had one off night. That came in late January when the Waterloo Vikings gave his team fits. Southeast, however, had enough to squeak out a 38-34 victory.

"We were lucky to get out of there with a win," said Dunn. "It was a good wakeup call. We have to play well in order to win."

Other than that close call, balanced scoring _ nearly all five starters are in double figures _ great rebounding, defense and shooting have fueled the Pirates.

"We thought that 15-5 was a realistic goal at the beginning of the year," said Dunn. "It kept getting better and better, and the kids kept getting better and better. When we got to 9-0, 10-0, people started talking undefeated season."

The Pirates are led by Jimmy Seaman, who averages a team-high 18.4 points a game and grabs 7.6 boards a night. Junior Aaron Pettigrew is next with just over 16 points, while Chris Pratt, Joe Divoky and Dan Pringle _ like Seaman all seniors _ all hover just below the 10-point mark. Pringle is the team's top rebounder with 7.8.

The Bombers (13-6, 9-4 PCL) have had several weeks to cleanse from their memories the 84-56 defeat they suffered to the Pirates at home in early January.

"They really exploded in that game; they have the ability to do that," said Hill of the Pirates.

Hill thinks his team, which needed a do-or-die 41-40 victory over Waterloo last Friday to earn its second straight berth in the title game, is playing much better at this point.

"We played well early in the season, then showed some immaturity in the middle of the year, and now are playing well," he said. "We've played a lot of good games, our only blowout (loss) was to Southeast."

Had the Bombers lost to Waterloo, Mogadore would have been representing the National Division. A year ago, the Bombers fell at Crestwood in overtime to finish as league runnerup.

To beat Southeast, the Bombers will need to control the tempo. A fast-paced game would not be in the best interest of the Bombers. Just ask Rootstown, who saw the Pirates put up 95 points in pinball-like fashion against them late in the year.

"They like to play at a certain rhythm," said Hill. "We also like to run, but you can't get into a 3-point contest with them. We have to take care of the ball, which we have done a good job of this year."

Rebounding will also be a decisive factor in Saturday's battle. Southeast, with Pringle and Seaman can be deadly on the glass, particularly on the offensive end.

"All five guys need to go in and rebound," said Hill. "(Southeast) is a very aggressive rebounding team."

One area where Hill thinks his team can match up with the Pirates is depth.

The Bombers' starting five will consist of senior Jarred Miller and juniors Justin Kiser, John Pemberton (team-high 12.8 points per game), Drew Apthorpe and Cedric Turner (12.5 ppg, 6 rebounds).

But a bench, including the likes of Larry Jones and Tony Marstiller, developed as the year progressed and aided the Bombers down the stretch.

"We've been playing a lot of kids the last few weeks and that's helped," said Hill. "At different times, when certain people have struggled, others have stepped up. We've won 13 games without anybody averaging over 12.8 points. That shows depth."

Dunn is wary of the Windham depth as well as its athleticism, which he is very impressed with, especially the Bombers ability to beat opponents off the dribble.

"I have a lot of respect for Marty and his program," said Dunn. "The key for us is to contain their athleticism and play our game. We just don't want to do anything different than the last 19 games. We will have to play well to win.

"I think the top two teams in the league are playing. That's the way it's supposed to be."

Hill knows all about perfect seasons. He also knows that his squad can spoil Southeast's special year while giving Windham a championship trophy.

"The way the league is, you have to win one last game. We're glad we're at home."

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E-mail: eclutter@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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