By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
It may have been Marty Hill Night, but it was the Bombers who finished under the spotlight on Friday night.
And that is just the way the legendary and forever humble coach would always want it.
Hill was honored between the girls and boys varsity games for his historic 47-year career, which included 694 victories and 13 league championships, 22 sectional titles, 15 district crowns and three trips to the state’s Final Four.
After a long list of Hill’s accomplishments were announced, he graciously took the microphone to address the crowd and promptly directed all of the credit for his achievements to his former players — some of which were in attendance.
Then the current group of Bombers, nearly all played for Hill before he retired in April, went out and played a style of “Marty Ball” that surely had their former coach smiling.
From the start of the game, the Bombers showcased full-court defensive pressure, with a motion offense principled in making the extra pass. All of which were staples of Hill’s teams.
It set the stage for a dominating 68-23 victory over Lordstown on Marty Hill Court.
The Bobmers’ decision to unleash the full-court press at the start of the game was by design.
First-year head coach Cody Apthorpe, who played for Hill and then returned to his staff three years ago to be the Bombers’ JV coach, said the decision was made after he watched his team play without passion in a loss to Pymatuning Valley on Tuesday.
“To be honest, it would not have mattered who we played tonight, we were going to start in a press to try to give us energy right away,” Apthorpe said. “Our last game, we came out flat, and we stayed flat the entire game. As a staff, we decided that if we were not going to be able to get energy from our opponent, then we will create our own and we were willing to possibly give up some layups in transition. That was a risk we were willing to take.”
But one that did not backfire.
Windham’s quick feet, active hands and anticipation created steal after steal in the first quarter, which oftentimes turned into points in transition.
It allows the Bombers (4-3) to build an 18-4 first-quarter lead that was powered by Lucas Churchill’s eight points and three steals. Chase Eye also had three assists and two steals in the opening quarter.
The Bombers kept coming in waves and led 38-14 at halftime and 60-22 after the third quarter.
They forced 20 turnovers in the game and had 15 assists on 26 made field goals.
Every statistical category tilted in Windham’s favor on Friday.
They shot 50 percent from the field, 90 percent from the free-throw line and 47 percent from 3-point range. The Bombers out-rebounded Lordswotn 35-11 and totaled 15 steals, with Churchill finishing with five and Chase Eye with four.
It was the turnaround Apthorpe had hoped for following the team’s loss at Py Valley.
“I am really proud of the effort the guys gave tonight,” Apthorpe said. “We talked to the team before the game and told them that it was a very special night to have a special night, and I think they delivered on that. I am proud of them for how they responded.”
Winning on the night Hill was honored was fitting, but it also hit on multiple levels for Apthorpe.
“My relationship with coach starts when I was about 3 or 4 years old when I would come to practices with my dad,” Apthorpe said. “Then I was the team waterboy, then I was the freshman coming off the bench on a Final Four team, then I was the senior with a larger role on the team, then I came back as the JV coach and now I have the privilege to be in his position. It truly has come full circle for me and it is special. It means so much to me.”
Playing for and watching Hill coach as a player, then working alongside him, helped shape Apthorpe’s own coaching philosophy, but also deepened the respect he had for his former coach and mentor.
“Coach Hill has a passion for basketball and teaching kids that not too many people can understand,” Apthorpe said. “He truly just loves the game and the kids and when he got on the microphone to give credit to his players, that is the way he has always been. I cannot ever remember a time when he took credit for anything.”
Friday’s win pushed the Bombers over .500 for the season at 4-3.
Churchill finished with a team-high 17 points, while Chase Eye had 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Carlos Bruton added nine points for the Bombers, while Zack Turk had seven points and seven rebounds and Jack Eye hit a pair of 3-pointers and also had five rebounds.
Jayden Weaver scored 19 of Lordstown’s 23 points. He hit 7-of-22 field goals. The Red Devils are now 0-5 on the season.
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