By Dave Ricci email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — As Tonawanda High School senior Ben Stich reflected on his three-year varsity basketball career, he zeroed in on two watershed moments that told him that he had arrived as a varsity basketball player.
The first was how Stich responded after a slow start in a scrimmage against Amherst. The other was starting in his first T-NT game.
Those two moments, and every step since then, helped Stich craft one of the most memorable careers in Warriors basketball history. A career that is capped off by Ben Stich being named the Tonawanda News 2013-14 Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Stich, feeling he probably needed a bit more seasoning, thought he would be better off starting his sophomore year on JV. But Warriors coach Hank Hughes told Stich his time was now. And you will improve faster through more varsity playing time.
“It was after one scrimmage against Amherst where I didn’t play so good in the first quarter,” said Stich. “(Hughes) sat me down right there. Kind of talked to me. I went back out there, and I didn’t turn the ball over again. I’m glad he trusted me and I’m glad I trusted him.”
But Stich truly arrived a few weeks later when he was thrown into the fire of the T-NT rivalry after Warriors teammate Tyler Hughes was sick and unable to play. Stich turned in a performance that not only helped Tonawanda defeat their cross canal rivals, but also solidified his role as the Warriors point guard going forward.
“That’s really when I felt like I could play with these guys,” said Stich. “To be with Jesse (Lalka), Clayton (Hess) and Jake (Spencer) — all of those guys. Really, that’s when I felt like I was part of the team and contributed. I think I had 10 points, I remember it vividly. Coach Hughes was talking to me after and telling me, ‘OK, you’re kinda my point guard now.’”
Coach Hughes agreed that the North Tonawanda game was definitely Ben’s coming out party that set the stage for an amazing career.
“Obviously there was much more to go in his career and he did a lot of other good things. But that’s when I could really tell that he wasn’t afraid of the spotlight or the pressure of a big game and big situations,” Hughes said. “And only (being) a 10th grader, he did an outstanding job. That’s when I could tell that he’d be a starter for me for years to come.”
Serving as the Warriors point guard, Stich was filling extra big shoes because he took over the job his older brother, Steven Stich, held for three seasons. Inspired by his brother, Ben was definitely grateful to have a supportive older brother who pushed him to be his best.
“I definitely learned a lot from him,” said Stich. “Watching him play for three years, I learned not to be a selfish player. I’m more of a shooter than Steven was, but I definitely learned how to dribble with him out in the driveway and how to pass the ball better. Steven got to go to Buff St. (for sectional semifinals). He was (ECIC IV) first team. I definitely learned a lot from him, like not to be nervous in big time moments.”
But Ben added it was also a proud and satisfying feeling to know that he was able to emerge from Steven’s shadow to be his own person and his own player. And not just “Steven’s little brother.”
Scoring 13.6 points per game, Stich also had 4.5 steals and 4.5 assists per game. Deadly from outside, Stich had 53 buckets from three-point range. But when you take stock of Ben Stich’s senior year, it’s not his numbers that stand out, but rather the way he matured into the role of a leader.
One of the most passionate and competitive players to ever put on a Tonawanda basketball uniform, Stich learned how to better channel his emotions on the floor and blossomed into the kind of captain and leader his team, and coach, knew they could count on in any situation.
Without question the emotional leader of the Warriors, Stich was fast to say he was thankful to have co-captain Connor Pumm and junior Tristan Boling sharing the load of leading the team.
“It definitely made it a lot easier. I think I realized it early in the year that I didn’t have to do everything. And I have Connor and Tristan (to be) the offense of the team and get the guys motivated,” said Stich. “Pumm did a great job being a co-captain and I think a great leader. Especially as the season went on. And Tristan definitely stepped up his game later in the year. He definitely became a leader throughout the year.”
Extremely flattered to take home the News Player of the Year award, Stich said the biggest thrill has been seeing Tonawanda basketball become respected once again. And to know that he was part of the rebirth of a program that has seen four consecutive winning seasons, two league titles and three trips to Buff St. in the past four years.
“It’s just nice to be relevant now,” said Stich. “I think coach Hughes does a good job of letting people know we’re not just hear to play the games. We’re here to win ‘em.”
“Every single day he focused on the little details. He’s another one that didn’t shy away (from the pressure). He gave it his all, all of the time. With Connor I think it really comes down to fact that he just has great character,” Hughes said.Follow @tonanewssports on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.