Coaches revisit previous meeting

A text went out to Bristol coach Craig Giesy and Badger coach Josh Upshire early Thursday morning, asking both boys basketball coaches for an interview.

“As long as Josh doesn’t talk about beating us during the regular season in ’02. Hahaha,” Giesy said.

“Good thing we weren’t in D-IV in ’02 (followed by three laughing emojis),” Upshire said.

It was an early regular-season game in the 2001-02 season at Bristol High School. The humidity in the gym was overwhelming, so much that the doors were opened to get in some cold air. The combination made things difficult for the players on the floor.

“Everybody slid around the whole fourth quarter,” Giesy said. “I will say I did not play good in that game.”

Upshire remembered when he and Giesy came down the floor one-on-one. Giesy did a jump stop, faked Upshire, but slipped and fell in a game narrowly won by Badger, 62-56, that night. It was Bristol’s only regular-season loss in a season that ended with a loss to Delphos St. John’s in a state semifinal.

“It was a tie game,” Upshire said. “He gets called for a travel. We go down and score. That’s one of the plays that stands out.”

Sound familiar? Badger beat Bristol by one point a couple of weeks ago in Bristolville. Tonight, the two meet up in a Division IV district final at Grand Valley High School, starting at 7 p.m.

The two coaches played for their respective teams in the early 2000s, but didn’t really know one another until they started coaching. They became close friends and started talking after games, especially this season. It’s a mutual respect for both northern Trumbull County coaches and teams.

“We’re not coaching college athletes every day, every year,” said Giesy, whose second-seeded Bristol team is 20-4. “We’re coaching kids that we want to be productive society members. I think because we’re on the same page with a lot of core values, we’re able to bounce a lot of ideas off of each other. We’re always rooting for each other.”

Top-seeded Badger (19-5) followed Bristol’s model and strengthened its schedule, playing at Ursuline and Lakeview late in the season.

“We try to mold our program like his program because he does such a good job,” Upshire said about Bristol.

Bill Bogan was the coach of that ’02 team which reached the Division III regional at Canton where the Braves lost, 66-40, to Loudonville. Upshire remembers hearing the stories of when Bogan played with Braves legend Dale Blaney, who later went to West Virginia University, and those great Badger teams of the early 1980s.

Upshire, a 2002 graduate, has his own memories as a player for Bogan, including an overtime loss to Mogadore in the Division IV district final at Middlefield Cardinal. Upshire said Badger was up by 16 early in the fourth quarter.

The following year, Badger moved up to Division III and beat Grand Valley, Brookfield and John F. Kennedy to advance to the Braves’ most recent regional appearance. It was a Badger team with a couple of starters who began back when they were freshmen.

“Knowing that hunger we had and the type of team we had coming back,” Upshire said. “It was fun preparing for games.”

Hoisting a district trophy, as Badger did at Hubbard High School in early March 2002, that’s a feeling the current Braves coach won’t soon forget.

“They won’t have moments like this unless their child is born or they get married,” Upshire said. “Moments they make with their teammates in the locker room are some of the best memories they’ll have for the rest of their life.”

Bristol is in its third district final in four years and has been to the district for the last four season. They’ve been eliminated by a top-flight Cornerstone Christian team three of those years and by a very talented JFK team in 2016.

Giesy told those recent teams that they were facing their Delphos St. John much earlier in the postseason. It’s because of those difficult opponents that this Panthers team is on the cusp of winning a district title for the first time since Giesy’s senior year of 2003.

“They’re part of why we’re here now and why we’re able to beat JFK and Andrews Osborne this year,” Giesy said.

Bristol supporters on one side of Grand Valley’s gymnasium, and Badger fans on the other side, squeezing in on the blue hard plastic bleachers inside the Mustangs facility.

It reminds Giesy of that state run in the 2001-02 season, packed houses most nights. Tonight will be no different for these Northeastern Athletic Conference foes.

“I’m going to take the moment in, enjoy it,” he said. “I know Josh will as well. It’s not only going to be a fun night for us, but the Bristol, Badger communities and northern Trumbull County.”

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