Middletown High School Boys, 1956, 1957 & 1958 Teams
The road to victory began in 1944 when The Middletown Middies won a first state crown under Royner Green. Over the next decade, The Middies claimed five more state titles.
The 1956-57-58 seasons proved to be the most notable for The Middies, with Jerry Lucas dominating the court. Heading into the finals of the Ohio Class AA high school basketball championships. The Middies, led by Coach Paul Walker had gone an impressive 76 games without a defeat.
Coach Walker’s Middies cruised through the 1955-56 season, posting 23 straight victories. Only once were they really tested, holding on for an 81-79 victory over Hamilton High School. Leading the Middletown victory parade was a sophomore sensation by the name of Jerry Lucas. The 6’ 8” center, a first team All-Ohio selection, was pouring in points at the rate of 28.1 per game. He would come close to doubling that production in the tournament.
The tournament was played at the Cleveland Arena in 1956, and the hometown fans were hoping to see their East Tech Scarabs knock off the Middies. In what would be a wild and woolly record setting game, those Cleveland fans almost got their wish. The Scarabs jumped off to a 24-19 lead after one period. The Middies started their comeback in the second quarter, but East Tech still held the lead, 39-38, at the break.
The second half was all Middletown. Led by their star center, Jerry Lucas, who poured in 53 points for the game (still a semi-final record), Middletown outscored East Tech 61-39 over the last two quarters to post a 99-78 victory. The Middies’ 99 points is still a tournament record, and the 177 point total is the second highest for any tournament game.
In the finals Middletown faced off against Canton McKinley’s Bulldogs. The Pups “limited” Jerry Lucas to 44 points, but the Middies still cruised to a 91-69 championship game victory. In addition to the state championship, the Middies were also named national champions, a title they shared with Crispus Attucks High School of Indianapolis.
After the game both coach Walker and McKinley head coach Bup Rearick agreed, along with most other knowledgeable basketball people around the state, that the 1955-56 Middies were perhaps the best team that they had ever seen. Unfortunately for the rest of the state, although Middletown only had two starters returning, one of them was Jerry Lucas – the Middies were just getting started.
The 1956-57 Middletown victory parade rolled into Columbus for the state tournament sporting a record of 25-0 and a 50-game winning streak. Unlike the last tournament, however, this one would be no walk in the park for coach Walker’s team.
Playing Toledo Macomber in the Class AA semi-finals, Middletown jumped out to a 20-10 lead after the first quarter. Macomber came storming back in the second quarter, outscored Middletown 26-12, and took a 36-32 lead at the half. After three quarters Macomber held a 47-46 advantage, setting up an incredible finish.
Middletown had closed to within one point of Macomber when one of the Toledo players was fouled with just nine seconds left in the game. He made only one of the two foul shots. The Middies raced down the floor. The ball was passed off to Lucas, who sank a shot from just beyond the foul circle as time expired, tying the score at 61-61. Lucas had scored 12 of Middletown’s 15 fourth quarter points to keep his team in the game.
In the overtime Jerry Lucas tossed in seven of his team’s nine points as the Middies pulled out a 70-65 win. He finished the game with 46 points.
The championship game against Kent Roosevelt was almost as intense. The Teddies played the Middies tough, and at the half the game was all tied up at 35. Kent hung with Middletown until late in the third quarter when the score was still deadlocked at 45-45, but Jerry Lucas then tossed in three consecutive two-pointers and the Middies were on their way. Final score: Middletown 64, Kent 54.
Middletown had won a seventh state title, extending its win streak to 52. The Middies were also named the national champions for a second consecutive year, and this time they shared it with no one.
It looked to be more of the same for Middletown in the 1957-58 season, Jerry Lucas’s senior year, and it was. The Middies again entered the tournament undefeated, having won all 24 of their games to that point to extend their win streak to an incredible 76 in a row. But this would be no ordinary Class AA tournament, as all four teams were undefeated, the first time this had ever happened.
Middletown’s semi-final game opponent would be the Polar Bears of Columbus North High School, also sporting a record of 24-0. It would be a tight game all the way. The Middies led 16-14 after one quarter, but at the half the game was tied at 30-all. Middletown fell behind by four early in the third quarter, but tied the game at 38-38 and took a 48-43 into the fourth quarter.
A 12-6 run to start the final frame gave the Polar Bears a 55-54 lead with 4:02 left in the game. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, “Then the Middies lost their poise and weakened. North upped its margin to four points and the cause of the Polar Bears looked good.”
The Polar Bears had increased their lead to 59-54 with 1:36 to play, when the Middies started their comeback. A pair of field goals by Lucas and one by Larry Emrick cut it a one-point lead, 61-60, with 10 seconds left. Middletown’s Tom Sizer then nailed a pair of free throws to give Middletown a 62-61 advantage.
North took a timeout to plan its next move. That move proved to be Eddie Clark’s driving lay-up with six seconds to go that gave the Bears a 63-62 lead. The Middies’ Larry Emrick fired a desperation shot at the buzzer. The ball hit the rim and fell off. “It was the end of an era, the crumbling of the greatest cage dynasty the state has ever boasted.” (Plain Dealer)
Jerry Lucas scored 25 points in this game, rather he was “held” to 25 by the North defense, about nine points below his career average, in this the only high school game that he ever lost.
The Middies still had one more year left in their “golden era.” The very next season coach Walker had his team back in the tournament. They went up against Salem High School in the semi-finals. It was a close game all the way, but the Middies never could gain the lead and suffered a 68-65 defeat.
Source: Tim Hudak, SportsHeritagePublications.net