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DALTON VARSITY BOYS BASKETBALL: District champs for first time since 2002

Dalton’s varsity boys basketball team claimed its first district championship in 21 years. The Dawgs won the Division IV Northeast 2 district March 3 against No. 2 Warren JFK 71-58.

DGKN sportswriter

A late-winter rainstorm, a power outage and Warren JFK’s defense all were not enough to stop Dalton High School’s varsity boys basketball team from winning its first district championship since 2002. The No. 7 seed Dawgs were determined to overcome every obstacle put in their way during their Division IV Northeast 2 district final upset of No. 2 JFK to claim the district title and advance to the regional tournament.

“It means the world to me to be able to help bring Dalton its first district title since 2002,” Dalton’s head coach Justin Greenfelder said. “This is such a great community filled with great people and I feel extremely privileged to be here.”

Greenfelder explained how his team’s mentality of each player working toward a common goal helped them reach success in his first season as head coach and how his team hopes to continue with success for the rest of the tournament.

“The credit goes to the players who bought into me as a new coach and a defense-first system I brought with me,” he continued. “Throughout the season we have talked about our ‘row the boat’ mentality of everyone playing for each other and rowing toward a common goal. We have achieved two of those goals: winning a fourth straight WCAL title and a district title. But we still have goals remaining and the players are motivated to accomplish them.”

Before they made it to the district final, Dalton first had to get past No. 4 Lowellville in the district semifinal game Feb. 28 at Struthers Fieldhouse. The Dawgs bounced Lowellville 55-36. Jack Steiner led Dalton with 20 points. Quentin Lehman added 10 points. Braylon Wenger was held to eight points since Lowellville’s defense was all over him. Braden Fiesler finished with seven points, while Keller McFarren scored six points. Ethan Stutz and Grayson Lehman combined for four points.

“This was the most physical team we’ve played all year,” Greenfelder said. “It was a challenging game because they showed us a junk defense we hadn’t seen before. But once we got used to it, I feel like we did an excellent job in the second half of making the extra pass and finding the open man. Jack Steiner stepped up and played a great game on both ends of the floor, while Quentin Lehman was the key to us taking and building the lead in the second half. Our defense was incredible in holding a high-scoring team to 36 points.”

The Dawgs headed back to the historic Struthers Fieldhouse March 3 for the district final game against Warren JFK with the mindset to win their first district championship in over two decades. They achieved the feat with a 71-58 victory.

JFK won the opening tip, but Dalton quickly took control. The Dawgs never trailed in the first quarter. The Eagles started to get hot in the second quarter and they held a 37-33 lead over Dalton at halftime. JFK maintained its lead into the third quarter, but Dalton started chipping away at the deficit. Brady Hignight, who had been on fire all game and finished with 20 total points, scored at 7:15 in the fourth quarter to regain Dalton’s lead.

The Dawgs continued to build their lead in the final quarter by shooting lights out – literally. With 4:39 left in the game, the power went out in the gym due to a storm. The outage lasted around seven minutes, during that time fans attempted to illuminate the gym using the lights from their phones. Once the lights came back on, Dalton proceeded to outscore JFK 13-2.

With less than one minute left in the game, Wenger slammed down a dunk to collect 28 points in the game and put a bow on the victory.

Steiner also played an effective role in the win with 17 points. Fiesler had four points and Quentin Lehman scored two points.

“We focused on guarding the perimeter and attacking their pressure, and I feel like we did a good job of this most of the night,” said Greenfelder. “Braylon Wenger had a great game on both ends of the floor. However, I’m not sure we would be here without the play of Brady Hignight. Brady guarded JFK’s best shooter and scorer and held him to 9 points, while also having his best offensive game of the season with 20 points including some huge shots in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a great team win that was earned with months of hard work in practice.”

Wenger noted the many strong Dalton boys teams in the past 21 years and what it means to the senior to win the title.

“It means a lot,” Wenger said. “We have had a lot of good teams come through Dalton since 2002 and to be on the team to win a district (championship) for the first time since 2002, it means a lot.”

Dalton moves on to the regional semifinal game against Colonel Crawford March 7 at Canton Memorial Field House. Greenfelder outlined the approach his team is taking heading into the regional semifinal.

“We have a tall task in front of us at the regional tournament, but I remind the players to live in the moment,” Greenfelder said. “We have an opportunity to play at one of the greatest high school venues in Ohio, the Canton Memorial Field House. I want them to enjoy this opportunity and continue to play our game. If we do that, we all believe that we can continue to accomplish great things this season.”

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