The Ravenna Ravens have won four games in a row and will host Portage Trail Conference Metro Division leader Norton on Friday, as the second round of division play gets under way.
The Ravens will then get a look at the division's No. 2 team, Streetsboro, on Friday, Jan. 25.
In December, Ravenna lost to both the Panthers and Rockets by double-digits, however, the Ravens have looked impressive in their latest run and a pair of wins could make the Metro Division real exciting down the stretch.
BENNETT DOES IT AGAIN
Ravenna's 5-foot-10 senior guard Tate Bennett is one of those guys that if you were going to battle in the backyard and picking teams, he would always be my first choice, no matter what the sport.
He is not the strongest player, he is not the high scorer, he is not the fastest kid on the team, but he works at being a winner, plays with a lot of heart and is a real clutch player.
Last Friday, Bennett meshed the nets with a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give the Ravens a 77-74 thrilling victory over Springfield. It was Bennett's first (and maybe not last) game-winner in basketball this season. He followed the dramatic finish by scoring 17 points during Tuesday's 88-68 victory over Waterloo.
"Tate is one of those kids that just wants to compete, and he is going to do whatever it takes to make the outcome favor the Ravens," said Ravenna head coach Phil Starks. "Some kids will shy away from wanting to take that last shot, but he wants the ball in his hands. He is a high-strung kid that is happy-go-lucky all the time. His parents have done a great job of raising him. He does so much for our team that is overlooked."
Not many people will forget Bennett's over-the-back touchdown pass as time expired against Field to secure a Ravens victory on the gridiron as the team's quarterback. He also made a crucial third-and 17 completion in the opening football game that pulled out a victory over Tallmadge after he was inserted at QB when starter Kyle Spellman was injured.
LOVES THE GAME
Bennett is one of those kids that seldom slows down; he has a high-octane motor and usually eats on the run.
The three-sport athlete started at an early age and is usually playing a game seven days a week, going from one sport to another.
Bennett will start his third year as the Ravens' catcher on the two-time defending PTC Metro Division champions as soon as basketball season is over. The All-Metro selection last season batted .398, and according to head baseball coach Sonny Tilden, he is one of the best catchers in the league.
"He is the leader of our team and defensively you can't find a better catcher," Tilden said. "I think baseball is his best sport, and he has the ability to play at the next level."
Bennett has been a member of two Hot Stove state title teams. He was a member of the Ravenna Braves H League team as a 9-year-old and last year was a member of the Crestwood Marlins, who won the E League championship.
"Tate is just a special kid," said Ravenna head football coach Jim Lunardi. "The best way to describe him is that he is that kid that is always in the gym or on the field that is always doing the unusual things. He is a heck of an athlete that can play anywhere, and he is a fun-loving kid that is never unhappy and I think that is the spirit you want to have in life."
There are times when Ravenna gets up and down the court with precise, unselfish passing and ball movement that will make the Ravens look like a division contender.
However, there are also times when they look like a team waiting for a turnover to happen.
The Ravens had several defensive miscues Tuesday night against Waterloo, a 1-11 team. If the Ravens play smart and up to their potential, they could spring the upset and make the division chase exciting.
But if they play out of control, Norton's Aaron Vanbuskirk and Tyler Sherman will carve out the Panthers' 11th win of the season.
Ravenna only trailed Norton by a point at halftime in their first meeting, however, Vanbuskirk got into early foul troubles and did not score, but the Panthers still won by 19 points.
"We definitely have to put four quarters together," said Starks. "They have so many weapons, but they are beatable. We have to cut down on our unforced turnovers and make our foul shots and easy bunnies if we expect to win."
Streetsboro upset Norton last week (51-49) and the Panthers lost to Green 66-55 on Tuesday so this might be the right opportunity for the Ravens.
COUNTY DIVISION GAME OF WEEK
After dropping its first five games of the season, Woodridge has now won five in a row. The Bulldogs will entertain Windham on Friday in a December rematch that saw the Bombers rout Woodridge by 24 points.
The Bombers, unbeaten in division play (7-0), could all but eliminate the Dogs from contention with their fourth division loss. However, it is tough to win at Woodridge and you know the Bulldogs will be high in anticipation of a big upset. This should be a great game.