OAK HARBOR - Let's face it. It's been quite some time since the Oak Harbor boys' basketball team has been relevant.
It's been 17 seasons since the Rockets have produced a minimum of 12 wins in a season and have won a Sandusky Bay Conference title.
On Friday, Oak Harbor has a chance to match that win total and put itself in a tie for the top spot in the division as one of the biggest contests of the season takes place at the Launch Pad with freshmen action taking center stage beginning at 4:30 pm.
Currently, the Rockets are 11-2 (5-1 SBC Bay).
"For this team, it is a huge game," coach Eric Sweet mentioned. "This game can tie us for first place or put us two games out of first place. With a win, we set ourselves up and control our own destiny in the league, with a loss, we need help from other league teams. It is always better to control then hope for help."
Vermilion coach, Kurt Habermehl, is also keying in on this game as a vital one on the Sailors' schedule.
"This game is extremely important in our effort to win a division title," Habermahl stated. "Oak Harbor is a really good basketball team who is well-coached. We know that it will be a very difficult game."
Sitting a game above the Rockets is Vermilion, a recent addition to the SBC, and a team that won the conference in its inaugural season last year with a 17-5 (11-3 SBC) record.
To date, the Sailors are 10-2 (8-0 SBC Bay) this season.
The Sailors defeated Oak Harbor by 19 points last year at Vermilion, by five points later in the season at Oak Harbor, and this season, Vermilion took the first battle by a score of 65-60.
"We got off to a slow start at Vermilion," said Sweet. "That is one of their strengths, jumping out to an early lead. The teams that can get through the first quarter and either be ahead or behind by less than two, cleared one of the hurdles that Vermilion puts in front of you."
To combat that, Sweet noted the importance for the Rockets to be prepared from the tip-off.
"A fast start is a key to winning the game, but is not the only key," Sweet stated. "We have to come out ready to play and not let them jump out to that early lead."
Since its loss to Vermilion, Oak Harbor has reeled off seven straight wins.
So, what has been the reason for the Rockets' success so far this season?
"The team has really taken to the 'We Over Me' mantra," said Sweet. "We have three guys in double-digit points this season while two are at nine or ten. That shows we share the basketball and do not care who scores."
Sophomore Jac Alexander leads Oak Harbor with 13.6 points a game, Tate Smith is averaging 12.5, and Alex Gezo is adding 11.5 points a contest.
Both Clay Schulte and Aric McAtee are scoring 7.8 points a game.
"The game of basketball is a total effort every night," Sweet added. "It is never just about the five guys on the court. The bench plays such a key role in wins also."
Even Habermehl said he enjoys watching the Rockets on the court.
"I love watching Oak Harbor play," Habermehl stated. "They play extremely hard and do a nice job of playing together.
"Coach Sweet has done a tremendous job with the program. We kind of had a feeling in the preseason that they would be near the top of the division. I think it is hard preparing for their big men because of how athletic they are. Not only are they 6'6" and 6'4", but they run like guards which can make it difficult on teams."
Another evidence of the Rockets' team first mentality is that four different players have scored at least 20 points in a game this season, and a fifth player has scored 19 in a game.
"It is not just the scoring that shows up in the 'we over me,'" added Sweet. "When players hit big shots or do something great, their teammates are the loudest ones cheering them on. Our bench has excitement and enthusiasm for their teammates that are on the court."
That kind of support and spirit is something Oak Harbor may need this Friday as Vermilion will be poised for the Rockets' best effort.
"Vermilion has a lot of confidence and they have been the top of the league now since they joined two years ago," said Sweet. "Playing against a team that gets the best from teams night in and night out is what makes them so tough. They, like us, have a great balance attack and have four players that can, and are willing, to hit big shots when needed. They are used to the bulls eye on their back and expect teams to come after them. Coach Habermehl does a great job with the team."
While the Sailors won the conference title last season, Oak Harbor wants to make its mark in the conference as the SBC's first Bay Division champion since the league expanded at the beginning of this year.
"A league title is something we want," said Sweet. "This is the start of big league games. For the program, it is big. It shows the league that we are coming along and getting better with each year, but for the program, we need year after year games like this."
While Friday's game against Vermilion is one of the biggest the Rockets have faced for a while, Sweet noted how the game also is important to the community.
"For the community, it is fun to have your high school competing for a league title," said Sweet. "I am just excited for these young men to get a chance to play in a game like this. I am excited for the team."
Habermehl said that his team and fans are well aware of the excitement in Oak Harbor for this week's game.
"I am just looking forward to a great high school basketball game," said Habermehl. "I know the Oak Harbor people are really excited about the game as are the Vermilion people. Hopefully, the game measures up to the expectations of the people who are coming out to watch."
Several incentives are in place for fans to come out and support the Rockets this Friday.
Croghan Colonial Bank and The Rocket Shop are providing t-shirts for the Oak Harbor student section, band, and players and have sold many to community members as Oak Harbor is encouraging its fans to wear green in a "Green Out."
Also, all BCS students grades K-12 can get into the contest for free if they bring two canned goods to be donated to the BCS Food Pantry.
A 50-50 drawing will provide one lucky winner with half the money while the other winning ticket will allow the winner to shoot a half-court shot for a chance at $250 from OHSNonline.com
"This team is fun and exciting to watch," said Sweet. They play the game of basketball together and with an unselfish agenda. We play total team defense and share the basketball freely with each other.
"I promise you if you come watch the Rocket Men's basketball team it will be worth your money."
Tickets are $6 for an adult, $5 for students (unless they bring a donation of two canned goods) and seniors (65 & over).
Freshmen begin at 4:30, JV begins about 15 minutes after freshmen, and varsity about 15 minutes after that.