Ranked 17th in state: 8-0 Comets win Paulding County League
Enter state tournament without ‘Z’
By GERALD SINN
Special to the Progress
Part 5 of 7
With an impressive 13-1 record, the Blue Creek Comets continue their stellar season that takes them into tournament play.
Game #15: Willshire 73 Blue Creek 63 (13-2).
Played at Willshire in Van Wert County, Ohio the Comet players were never informed of what to expect at Willshire that night in January. First they found out Willshire was undefeated at 10-0. It was also clear the Bearcats were not scouted prior to the game.
The Comets came out at game time to find a huge sophomore giant in a Bearcats uniform. Thus the beginning of an era in Willshire, Ohio. His name was Gary Kessler, he became 6’10” in size, but in essence he was a jolly giant, likable and respected. However, the Comets and Coach Jay had no idea such a player would be on the floor that night.
What would a small Comets team do with this giant? It was a game to remember. The Comets’ long shots kept them in the game. The giant’s rebounds were threatening and Ken Z. was getting pounded with arms hanging over him at center.
The 5’9” Comets were trying to slap his passes away, or get under him to foul him out, or crowd him out, away from the basket. If he got to the basket, it was a certain two points.
The Marbaugh boys, Michauad and Charlie Koch, were a good Willshire team on their own, now they’re supporting the giant. What the Comets had to do was match them point for point, since the Bearcats would score every time down the floor.
The first quarter ended 16-15 in favor of the Bearcats. At half it was still a one-point difference, 32-31 Bearcats, with the lead changing hands several times. Ned was actually asking his players options of attack on the giant at half time. In the third quarter, Willshire outscored the Comets slowly until the points were up by 10 with 10 seconds on the clock.
The Long Shot
“When seven seconds are on the clock, and the quarter or game is ending, let that ball fly to the basket, shoot it,” Coach Jay told us. Shooters like it that way, it gives freedom to shoot, whether they hit it or not. This was such a moment.
Walt Sinn was passing the ball into play, he looked at Gerald, holding the ball and pointing to the clock with 10 seconds left.
“I understood, I shook my head in a yes motion,” Gerald said. “Walt passed me the ball. I had three seconds to get as close to the basket as I could. I didn’t make it to the three-quarter line. My mind told me the first part was to bend my knees for strength if the shot was to reach the other end the gymnasium.
“My grip on the ball told me my hands and fingers had to be perfect on the hold. The arms and wrist were the whip taking command from the knees and push from the hips. When my strong arm muscles lifted past my shoulders the seam of the ball flew off my fingertips.
“The mathematics of my mind and eyes never left the front of the rim 65 feet away. My fingertips told my mind this shot is perfect as the ball exits my hands into a perfect arch for its long, lofty ride. It felt good. All that was left was the ‘swish’ of the net – at the buzzer. We got the swish. Willshire had only an eight-point lead (single digits) going into the fourth quarter. It was a shot I would remember for a lifetime.”
It was an ovation Gerald would remember as well. There were over a thousand people in the gym that night and they were standing, even Willshire fans. He got back to the huddle and Coach Jay went into his plan on how to beat these guys, not a word about his shot. Except that Walt interrupted the coach, “Great shot, Gerald”; the rest of the first five followed. Then Ned commented, “It was a great shot, Gerald.” He was sincere.
In the fourth quarter, Blue Creek still had sparks shooting from their Comets. The long shot bomb made a difference – the Comets had their biggest quarter. Long shots were falling in, but so were the giant’s lay-ups. The Comets hit the hoop for 20 points, matching the giant and Bearcats point-for-point.
The crowd was roaring, probably most for the courageous Comets.
“Gary Kessler scored 24 points (four were foul shots). Walt and Gerald Sinn hit for 16 and 14 points for Coach Jay’s boys.” (Van Wert News) Dennis 12, Ken Z 10, Max 5. (Four in double-digits).
Game #16: Mark Center 55 Blue Creek 50 (13-3).
Mark Center (Defiance County’s best team in 1954) was Blue Creek’s next visitor four days later. All the stats from this game could not be found in newspapers. No box scores, no score books and no memory from the author.
Game #17: Blue Creek 58 Paulding 33 (14-3).
Blue Creek swamps Panthers – trouncing them 58-33 (February 2 Paulding Progress).
“Paulding’s efforts were in vain, the Comets looked like a well-oiled machine. They kept switching from fast-break to control ball, the Panthers didn’t know what to expect next.” Defense was the victor. Ken Z 16 points, Walt 11, Gerald 10.
COMETS’ FIRST-FIVE HITS IN DOUBLE-DIGITS
Game # 18: Blue Creek 73 Ohio City 51 (15-3).
Comets points: Dennis Doster 18, Walt Sinn 17, Ken Zimmerman 12, Max Pease 10 and Gerald Sinn 10 (all double digits).
Five Comets scoring in double-digits is an amazing accomplishment and only a special team could make it possible. No opponents’ defense will stop it. That’s five players in double-digits (each scoring 10 points or more in a single game). The Comets had high percentage shooters hitting from all sides of the floor. It was a Friday night in Haviland and the Comets stomped the Ohio City Warriors by 22 points.
Since 1946, and prior years, Defiance, Van Wert and Paulding counties had no five-player double-digit games on record, until the Blue Creek Comets did it on February 5, 1954 (determined through an eight-year analysis of over 2,000 class B games using box scores in county newspapers and the book, The Joy of Basketball – Defiance County by author Dick Baldwin).
Ohio State Champions — Farmer (1946) and the “Mighty Midgets” of Miller City (1950) were “miracle” teams. They hit some 80- and 90-point games, but never scored five players in double-digits. They depended on three scorers and two great defensive men. Thus no five double digit games. This was common in the era. These champions are highlighted here to make a point. If they couldn’t score five double-digits, what kind of team would do this impossible feat?
Farmer, Miller City and Blue Creek had similar teams. All three had less than 37 boys in high school (Comets 27). They all started playing basketball in the fifth grade, each had great coaches early. These boys bonded, seven years of friendship. Each team had slick passing, phenomenal shooting, speed and airtight defenses.
But it was the Comets who had five double-digit shooters. The next teams to do it – the 1955 Blue Creek Comets (#2 Ohio) and the 1957 Ayersville Pilots, the year they were Ohio State champions. Ohio State Poll: Comets Ranked #17, Willshire 14-0 at #5. (Toledo Blade)
LOCKER ROOM – An alumni player had just come from a Delphos St. John’s game that night (St. John’s #2 in Ohio) and was talking to Ned Jay. Ned asked, “How good was St. John’s?” The guy said, “They’re good, but your Comets can beat them.” Gerald overheard them. “My mind got a shock, what he said was the Comets could be Ohio State champions in 1954.” In the Paulding County farmlands, no talk ever linked our small town teams to state championships.
Comets – Paulding County League Champions
Game #19: Blue Creek 60 Grover Hill 45 (16-3, 8-0 league champions).
COMETS ALL-STAR CENTER INJURED
Ken Zimmerman suffered a broken finger at the half-time tip-off of the Grover Hill game. The Comets won the game but lost its all-star center. Ken didn’t tell the coach and played the entire second half injured. His mother was on a trip so he called the coach the next morning. “Let’s get you to the doctor in Paulding right now,” was Ned Jay’s comment.
The doctor’s news was not good. He set the small bone on his middle finger of his right hand and said, “No more playing this year.” This shut Ken out of the tourney games. These were the games he’d prepped for since the young Lions started training in 1947. His mother backed the doctor. Ken Z. was out for the season.
Next week: Blue Creek: Paulding County champions!
© Gerald Sinn 2014