By David Fong
TROY — For Brett Kopp, Tuesday night went well beyond simply losing a basketball game or seeing yet another dream season end in the district title game.
It felt like saying goodbye to family.
“My son comes to basketball practices, and the kids are great with him,” the Bethel boys basketball coach said. “I’m coming to the realization he’s not going to see six of these kids on a regular basis again anymore.”
Kopp took over as Bethel’s head coach three years ago when this year’s six seniors — Caleb South, Jacob Evans, Alex Van Haaren, Korry Hamlin, Ben Lawson and Ryan Rose — all were sophomores. In the time since Kopp became head coach at his alma mater, they have all grown the program together, appearing in three straight Division III district championship games and winning back-to-back Cross County Conference titles, not losing a single CCC game in the past two seasons.
All of that came to an end Tuesday night at UD Arena, however, when Cincinnati North College Hill handed Bethel its third straight district finals loss, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 60-44 victory.
The worst part of it all for Kopp was knowing he’ll never again coach those six seniors.
“I told the guys in the locker room — and this is not to disrespect any of the other groups of seniors we’ve had here — but this is the group I’ve been with the longest,” Kopp said. “Of these six seniors, we’ve got three valedictorians, one salutatorian, a 3.9 GPA and a 3.2. When a basketball coach doesn’t have to worry about anything but coaching basketball, that’s pretty good.
“These kids have raised the expectations for this program on the floor and in the classroom. The best part is all the younger guys we’ve got coming back know what the expectations are — how hard they have to practice and play. These guys have definitely left their mark on this program.”
Against a speedy North College Hill team, Bethel held its own early, but eventually a horrific shooting night doomed the Bees.
Bethel hit just 1 of 12 3-point attempts in the first half and things didn’t get any better in the second, as Bethel finished the game shooting a chilly 3 of 23 (13 percent) from beyond the arc. For comparison’s sake, the Trojans hit 6 of 12 3-point attempts. Overall, Bethel shot just 38 percent from the field for the entire game.
North College Hill took advantage of Bethel’s inability to hit shots, going on a 15-5 run in the second quarter to take a 26-17 lead into halftime. The Trojans would never relinquish that lead the rest of the night.
“We picked a bad night to have a bad game,” Kopp said. “There have been games this year where we’ve hit three 3-pointers in three minutes. We had a lot of open looks and couldn’t take advantage of that. That would be our downfall. They’re kids. That’s going to happen sometimes. This was just a bad time for it to happen to us.”
North College Hill, meanwhile, was able to spread the ball around and use its speed and athleticism to keep the Bees off-balance on defense. It does bear mentioning that Bethel’s best athlete — South, the second-leading scorer in school history — was sitting on the bench in street clothes. He was injured in a game Feb. 16 and hasn’t played since.
His athleticism was sorely missed Friday.
“Caleb is probably the second-best Division III basketball player in Southwest Ohio — on some nights, he’s probably the best,” Kopp said. “I know the (Ohio State-bound Justin) Ahrens kid from Versailles is a stud, but I feel lucky to have coached Caleb. I feel bad for him and his buddies that they only got to play together seven times this year.”
Despite all that was going wrong for Bethel, the Bees did manage to keep it close throughout the night and only trailed by eight points going into the fourth quarter. Van Haaren nearly had a triple-double for the Bees, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. Rose led the Bees with 17 points and junior guard Kendal James added 10 points.
The Trojans went on a 5-0 run top open the fourth quarter however, stretching their lead to double-digits. They would keep it that way for the remainder of the game as Bethel couldn’t come up with any answers.
“We played well in spurts,” Kopp said. “We rebounded well in spurts. We shot well in spurts. But we didn’t do any of it long enough to win the game.”
All of which led to the stinging final result.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU