Friday, December 23, 2016

Battle of the Titans


Monday night featured a crosstown rivalry match-up between two of the top Middle School teams in Central Ohio.  Pickerington North's own Lakeview Junior High took to the floor against Hilliard Bradley's feeder group, Memorial Middle School. This would shape up to be a battle of undefeated teams in 2016. Ironically, this isn’t the first time these two teams have squared off without a loss.  Last year as 7th graders these two teams faced off in the end of the year Middle School Tournament Championship Game, both without a loss.  The Lakeview Panthers prevailed at the time with a 9-point win over the Memorial Jags.  

Each team had not really been tested up to this point, averaging 40-point plus victories in their prior 8 games. This game would be flush with talent, as 5 of the 10 starters at tipoff are a part of the Mid Ohio Pumas top AAU 8th grade team.  You may remember this squad from their 2014 NYBL 7th place finish and top 3 finish in the state, as 6th graders. This past season as 7th graders, they didn’t compete as a 7th grade team, instead many of these players moved up a grade and competed across multiple 8th grade Puma teams. More on that later in the article.

This year the Jags are led by three of five Puma players AJ Mirgon, the Jag’s leading scorer and rebounder with 21 points a game, along with co-captain and team-leading 3 point shooter Keaton Norris, the younger brother of Hilliard Bradley varsity player Braden Norris. Also rounding out the big three is versatile slasher Justice Ross. This trio along with a strong supporting cast had their minds set out to seek revenge over the Panthers. While intentions are great, results are what matter, and tonight the Jags just couldn't finish each quarter, allowing the Panthers to runoff 5 point spurts at the end of each quarter.  Paving the way to a 48-36 defeat of the Jags.  The Panthers now remain undefeated in two full seasons, while the Jags were handed only their second loss in two seasons to the same team.

The Lakeview Panthers were led by 6'4 man-child Jack Sawyer's game high 25 points and 11 rebounds, reminding us why he is one of the best post players in the state. As witnessed by Buckeye Prep in the fall Showcase, where he took home MVP honors for his all-star team. Like most good big men, you can only be as good as your PG who is distributing to you.  In this case, Sawyer is blessed to have one of the areas top floor generals in Casey George. Throughout the game George continued to make big plays when they counted, including a key buzzer beater shot to end the 1st qtr. George has delivered a balanced PG stat sheet all season with an impressive assist to turnover ratio, while leading the team from 3-point land. 

Justice Ross led the Jags in 1st quarter with a quick 4 of his 7 game points, and Sawyer countered with 7 of his own.  As the 2nd quarter progressed it was the supporting cast of the Panthers-- led by the Ohio Hoopsters’ Omari Fong and his overall 14 points, that provided much needed scoring.  Those were key points in keeping pace with the hot hand of Keaton Norris, who was bombing away from the deep corners of the gym with a trifecta of threes.

At halftime the score sat at 21-17, but in order to stay in the game the Jags needed someone to step up, and after a slow start in the first half with only 2 points. AJ  Mirgon came out in the 3rd quarter nailing three deep 3 pointers, while beginning to create points in the lane.  Mirgon, also a teammate of Sawyer in the Buckeye Prep Showcase All-Star game--finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. As the 3rd quarter progressed, Sawyer began to get in a groove again.  Virtually an unstoppable force on the blocks, the strong bodied Sawyer poured in 12 third quarter points, as the Panthers began to pull away and never looked back. The game boiled down to an overall battle of two skilled and strong willed teams, who had a lot of mutual respect for one another.

As for the Puma players, taking last year off from competing together, the plan is connect these young men again for a select few 8th grade tourneys in the spring, while competing mostly in 9th grade again. Mid Ohio Pumas, Founder- Dave Mirgon states, "It is just a better fit developmentally to have these young men take their skills an age level up again. The bigger and stronger competition better prepares them for HS varsity opportunities.  There isn't much more they need to prove at their age level."

We look forward to seeing these Pumas again on the circuit this spring.

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