Men in tourney for first time since 2006


Jesse Kucewicz, The Exponent

Coach Tom Heil credited Jay Battle, who he said steps up during the biggest games, and his teammates with a team-first win against Wilmington.

Though they listened to 62 other team names before the announcement of theirs, the players were able to prevail, and the Baldwin Wallace men’s basketball team is dancing into the NCAA Tournament.

The Yellow Jackets men’s basketball team earned the OAC Championship last week in Alliance, and for the first time since 2006 they will battle in the NCAA Tournament.

But for Baldwin Wallace head coach Tom Heil it has been about the opportunity of playing all season.

“We have guys that love to compete with their buddies.” Heil said, “Any opportunity we have to play, our guys cherish. And that’s really what it’s all about.”

All season long the team has been perfecting their strategy and finding the right chemistry on the court to fight in any situation.

The Yellow Jackets drew the fifth seed in the OAC Tournament and had to travel to Wilmington. They escaped with a 74-71 win led by Jay Battle, the same player who has led BW all season long.

“Jay is a great player. He’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing since he was a freshman.” Heil said, “In the biggest games, he plays the best. And I think that’s the mark of a great player.”

However, when the team took on number one seed Capital University, they found themselves facing a 14-point deficit. Battle wasn’t able to make that impact, but the team stepped up around him.

“What makes us good doesn’t show up on paper or on a stat sheet.” Heil said, “It’s that we’re a team. We have guys that play to their strengths and understand what they are good at. Shane Zalba was our leading scorer at halftime and he only played the last eight minutes of the first half. He’s a freshman but went out and really sparked us.”

The Yellow Jackets fought back and won soundly, 81-67.

For Heil, it wasn’t about making shots in either game. It was about making every possession count and making sure each shot was a high percentage shot.

“Whether or not shots go in, shouldn’t affect the way I evaluate that. It’s hard to do, but that’s coaching.” Heil said, “Being down 14 wasn’t ideal, but I knew we just needed to see a few go in the hoop.”

When they took on Mount Union, Battle was his normal self. He fouled out late in the game but scored a career high 33-points leading the Jackets to a victory, and the OAC Championship.

After that, the sights were set on the NCAA Tournament, where Heil says the team will do it’s best to fight for another game.

“We’re protecting the opportunity to play another game, for our seniors and for each other. So that’s a special thing. When you have a team that is really tight and as together as we are.” Heil said, “It’s a special opportunity because of how competitive our conference is.”

He also said that playing in such a tough conference has made the team battle tested and prepared.

Now the Yellow Jackets travel to Oswego, New York to take on Salisbury University, a team they haven’t faced since 1998. However, Heil said that the technology advances from the last 20 years will make preparing for them simpler than the last time.

The Jackets enter the tournament winning seven of their last eight games away from their home court, sparking Heil to mention how effective they are when on the road.

“Winning on the road is very difficult to do and it takes a certain degree of toughness. We have very tough kids in our program, I think we have competitors that relish the opportunity to play on the road.” Heil said, “I don’t think we win three road games last week without really tough kids.”

For the Yellow Jackets to compete at the highest level, Heil said the game plan will be simple and is something they have done all season.

“We have great senior leadership and have a lot of guys in our rotation. They are unselfish, tough and committed guys.” Heil said, “They’ve worked really hard for this and our results lately are just a product of that.”