HOLGATE — With the community and former players in their hearts, the Holgate Tigers won the 2004 Division IV state boys basketball title.
The Tigers were a team of destiny, never winning more than three games in a row during the regular season before winning seven straight in the playoffs. In the postseason, Holgate won three games in the final seconds, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Blake Sizemore to defeat South Webster in the state semifinals.
Holgate ended the regular season with a 14-6 record, losing to all three Henry County teams and falling to Wauseon in the last game before the playoffs.
“What I remember is we were undefeated against Division IV teams that season,” said Paul Wayne, who coached the Tigers for 30-plus seasons. “We lost to all three Henry County teams, but we could see the team was building as the season progressed.”
“I remember the coaches talking to us after the last regular season game,” said Lee Brubaker, who was a sophomore during the 2003-04 season. “We played Wauseon, and we played good, but we ended up losing the game. Immediately after the game, the coaches said if we played like that, we would be all right.”
After rolling past Hilltop to win the sectional title, the Tigers rolled into Napoleon for a very tough district tournament.
In the semifinals, Holgate battled Antwerp with Ryan Fruth hitting the game-winning shot in a 27-25 victory.
“I loved playing in the Grand Canyon,” said Fruth. “It was not too big, but still big, so the crowd noise was really loud.”
In the district finals, the Tigers and Pettisville battled into overtime with Lee Brubaker finding Earnest Ferguson for a lay-up in the final seconds of the 41-39 win.
Holgate topped Tiffin Calvert 51-36 in the regional semifinals at Bowling Green State University and then faced state-ranked Fort Jennings for the regional title.
The Tigers held off Fort Jennings, 35-33, and were headed to Columbus for the first time in half a century.
“We looked at going to state like a business trip,” said Luke Brubaker, a senior on the team. “I had been going to the state tournament with my dad since 1992, when Patrick Henry went. We were used to going to St. John (Arena) or the Schott (Schottenstein Center). We were not in shock.
“We were there to win two more basketball games,” added Luke Brubaker. “We were not just happy to get there.”
In the semifinals, the Tigers failed to score in the third quarter and trailed South Webster 28-22 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
Ferguson hit three-straight baskets to tie the game and South Webster took an errant shot to give the Tigers the ball. Sizemore nailed a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining for the 31-28 win.
“The 3-pointer Blake hit against South Webster was probably the most exciting time of my life,” said Fruth.
With Marion Local the last obstacle, the Tigers built an early 10-4 lead and pushed the lead to 15-8 at intermission. Andy Gerschutz hit a runner with four seconds left in the third quarter for a 26-16 lead and a 7-2 run to start the fourth quarter gave the Tigers a 15-point lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.
Holgate went on for the 40-32 win over the Flyers to win the Division IV state title.
The Tigers were the definition of team. Drew Clady was the team’s leading scorer during the season, averaging just over 10 points per game. Four other players averaged more than 7 points per game.
Wayne, in his press conference after winning the state title, said his team had seven starters.
This was further proven when Ferguson, who came off the bench, was named the tournament MVP. Ferguson scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the title game and was 11 of 13 shooting from the field during the state tournament.
Clady was also named to the all-tournament team, scoring 17 points in the two games in Columbus.
“The most important thing about that ‘04 team was they were physical and their attention to detail,” said Wayne. “We were in depth with the scouting reports and they were able to process them and apply it on the court. A lot of times an opponent would run a play and Lee Brubaker would call it out before they could actually run it.”
“We really relied on those scouting reports on defense,” said Lee Brubaker. “We were very good at taking away the best thing the other team wanted to do.”
Holgate’s defense allowed 35 points per game over the last nine games of the season, including the playoffs, and no team scored 40 points during that stretch.
With the state title secured, the Tigers set to celebrating.
“It was crazy to see how many people, not just from Holgate, but all of Henry County, came out to cheer us on,” said Fruth. “It was so cool seeing everybody there. It put into perspective playing for a small town.”
For Wayne it was the state title he had been chasing for 27 years.
“I don’t remember much about the game or cutting down the nets,” said Wayne. “I remember we went back to the hotel and we celebrated together as a team. Then when I went back to my room to go to bed, sitting on the TV was the (state championship) trophy. I touched it and started bawling. It was the first time I realized we were state champions.”
The team returned home to a hero’s welcome, with people lining the streets to view the school bus filled with the coaches, players and cheerleaders. They packed the gym to continue the celebration.
After all this title was not just for one team, it was for every person that ever wore the Purple and Gold or cheered for the Tigers.
“You don’t think about it when you’re 18 years old,” said Luke Brubaker. “You don’t realize how big a moment this was for our community. The team may have been 2004, but it was really a community thing. I remember going to Holgate basketball games when I was a little kid. I remember, as a little kid, saying that is something I want to do.
“We had alumni that would come in and practice against us,” continued Brubaker. “They were there to make us better. I had two uncles that played Holgate basketball in the (19)60s. This was bigger than one year. It may say 2004 on the banner, but anyone that took part in Holgate basketball was part of that championship.”