PHOTO BY AMBER DOTY
Dalton’s Jack Steiner
PHOTO BY KATIE GOOD
Dalton’s Braylon Wenger at the tip-off
PHOTO BY KATIE GOOD
Dalton’s Brady Hignight goes for a layup against Richmond Heights in the regional final game.
By Ariel Stahler
This tournament was unlike anything Dalton High School’s varsity boys basketball team had experienced in more than two decades, but their storybook postseason run ended in the Division IV regional final against a strong Richmond Heights team. The Dawgs finished the season with a 17-9 overall record.
Dalton’s first-year head coach Justin Greenfelder said this season was just a beginning.
“This tournament run was a great experience for our kids and lays a great foundation for the future,” Greenfelder said. “We had to overcome so much adversity as a team this year and those challenging experiences helped us in a number of tight games against good teams throughout this run. There are a lot of coaches who coach their whole lives and never reach a regional final. To be able to do it in my first year means a lot but is not something I will take for granted. My goal for the Dalton program is to continue to get back to regional tournaments year in and year out and eventually bring home a state championship for this great community.”
Dalton played in their first regional game since 2002 when they faced Colonel Crawford in the Division IV regional semifinal March 7 at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse. The Dawgs won 51-46 to move on to the regional final. Dalton won the tip and immediately went to work scoring, in addition to holding back Colonel Crawford with strong defense. The Dawgs were up by 10 at the end of the first quarter, but they were troubled with turnovers in the second quarter as Colonel Crawford closed the gap to leave Dalton narrowly ahead 23-21 at halftime. Colonel Crawford took its first lead of the game halfway through the third quarter. The Dawgs quickly regained the lead and they were up by one point heading into the fourth quarter. Jack Steiner was influential in scoring for the Dawgs in the final quarter. Colonel Crawford tried to come back, but Dalton pushed ahead. A pair of made free throws by Brady Hignight sealed the victory for the Dawgs.
Braylon Wenger was Dalton’s high scorer with 14 points. Hignight finished with 13 points and Jack Steiner totaled 12 points. Grayson Lehman and Quentin Lehman both had six points each.
“We knew coming in this would be a physical battle where we would need to execute on both ends of the floor,” said Greenfelder. “We won that game on the defensive end through our toughness and intensity on every possession. Offensively, our guards, Jack Steiner and Brady Hignight, played great games and did an exceptional job of getting us good shots against a very good defensive team. It was a great experience for our kids and community to play in a regional game at the historic Canton Fieldhouse and an even greater feeling to come away with a win and advance to the regional finals.”
Dalton put up their best effort in the regional final March 10 at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse, but Richmond Heights’ offense was too strong to overcome. The Dawgs finished regional runner-up with the 81-48 loss. This was Dalton’s first regional final game since 1996. During that year, Dalton made its second trip to state in back-to-back seasons in 1995 and 1996.
Dalton opened the game with a 5-0 run, but Richmond Heights swiftly started nailing 3-pointers to overtake the lead and they finished the quarter up 24-12. Dalton was rebounding well, but they could not get needed shots to fall. The Spartans continued to extend their lead as they headed to halftime with a score of 37-23. Richmond Heights went on a run in the third quarter and held Dalton to just eight points. The Dawgs started to battle back in the fourth quarter, but they could not make any progress as it seemed like every basket they made, Richmond Heights had an answer. Senior Bryce Johnson saw some minutes in the fourth quarter and he made a field goal for his final points in a Dalton uniform. The Dawgs gave it their all throughout the entire game and left nothing on the court.
“I thought our guys battled hard all night,” Greenfelder said. “Richmond Heights presents a huge challenge with their length and athleticism, but I feel like we never backed down and gave everything we had. Braylon Wenger played extremely well and attacked the rim all night. I told our guys after the game to hold their heads high and be proud of what they accomplished.”
Wenger, who recorded his 1,000th point earlier this season, scored 25 points in his last high school game, including going 12-17 from the free throw line. Hignight ended with seven points. Senior Jack Steiner scored six points. Grayson Lehman recorded four points. Seniors Ethan Stutz and Johnson combined for four points. Brandon Steiner scored two points.
“So much credit goes to our seniors,” Greenfelder said. “Braylon Wenger, Jack Steiner, Quentin Lehman, Braden Fiesler, Ethan Stutz and Bryce Johnson have meant so much to our program. They finished their careers as 4-time WCAL champs, district champs, and reached the final 8 in the state in Division IV. These accomplishments are unmatched in Dalton basketball history and they will be sorely missed. Each of them will always have a very special place in my heart as the first senior class in my first year as a head coach. I love them and will miss coaching them, but they know that the bond we created this year will last forever.”