With 5 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the Division II state final against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on March 23 at Ohio State, the Watterson High School boys basketball team not only lost the lead but one of its top players on the same play.
As SVSM guard Jalen Hudson scored to put the Irish ahead for the first time since early in the first quarter, junior guard Cody Calhoun was elbowed in the face. Play was stopped as Calhoun made his way to the bench with a bloody nose.
As fans chanted his name, Calhoun returned to the court less than a minute later in game time and scored five of his 14 points in the final five minutes to help lead the Eagles to a 55-52 win and their first state championship in their program's 55-year history.
"My nose didn't hurt because of the adrenaline, but it just wouldn't stop bleeding so I had to come out," Calhoun said. "They were making a run and the crowd was chanting my name, so I couldn't wait to get back in there. The energy was amazing, so I just tried to do what I could to give my team a lift.
"My nose will probably hurt later on, but that's all right because now we're state champions."
Making their first state appearance, the Eagles ended their season on a program-record 23-game winning streak, finishing 28-1 overall.
"This feels great and I'm incredibly proud of the way our guys played," coach Vince Lombardo said. "It's not just this group. I'm thinking about every group that came close to making it here and helped our program get to this point.
"We're thrilled to be here and thrilled to be state champs."
SVSM, which finished 20-10, jumped out to a 9-4 lead before Watterson went on a 15-0 run to go ahead 19-9 with 5:25 left in the second quarter. The Eagles led 26-17 at halftime, but the Irish cut their deficit to 39-36 by the end of the third quarter and took a 42-41 lead with 5:26 left on the field goal by Hudson.
Calhoun converted a three-point play to put the Eagles ahead 44-42 shortly after re-entering the game and senior post player Bryan Jackson made a field goal to extend the lead to 46-42 with 3:15 left.
"When things weren't looking too good, our guys stepped up and made plays," Lombardo said. "A trademark of our team is that our composure has been tremendous. Bryan really stepped up in this game after getting into foul trouble the past few games and we had different people step up and make key plays for us, just like they have all year."
Calhoun made a free throw to put the Eagles ahead 54-50 with 22.2 seconds left, but Hudson made two free throws to cut the lead to 54-52 with 18.3 seconds remaining. After junior guard Tommy Geraghty made a free throw to make it 55-52 with 11.7 seconds left, SVSM guard Fransohn Bickley missed a 3-pointer in the waning seconds.
Junior wing player Andy Grieser secured the rebound and threw the ball the length of the court as time expired, setting off the Eagles' celebration.
"This team is like a family and this was the perfect way to end our season," Jackson said.
Calhoun had 14 points and four rebounds and junior post player Matt Hughes had 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks to lead the Eagles. Jackson had 12 points and six rebounds and junior wing player Matt Lehmann had eight points and seven rebounds.
Hudson led SVSM with 17 points.
Watterson, which was ranked second in the final state poll behind Dayton Thurgood Marshall, defeated Kettering Alter 53-42 in a state semifinal March 21 at Ohio State.
Hughes led the Eagles with 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Lehmann had 14 points and five rebounds and Calhoun had nine points.
Guard Jaaron Simmons had 17 points to lead seventh-ranked Alter, which finished 21-6.
"Bryan Jackson was in foul trouble and we needed a presence inside, so I stepped up as much as I could to help my team," Hughes said. "Our main goal was to slow down (Simmons) because he's one of the best guards we've seen and he's most of their offense."
Watterson, which set the program record for wins in a season, endured its only loss against third-ranked Brook-haven, 59-56 on Jan. 5. The Eagles won their final 16 regular-season games and all seven of their postseason contests.
Seeded second in the district, Watterson had a first-round bye and beat 16th-seeded Mifflin 61-56 in the second round Feb. 28, seventh-seeded Eastmoor Academy 57-42 in a semifinal March 6 and top-seeded Brookhaven 56-52 in overtime in a district final March 8 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The Eagles then won two regional games at Bowling Green State University, beating Sandusky Perkins 53-34 in a semifinal March 14 and Lima Bath 57-47 in the final March 16.
Against Bath, Hughes had a career-high 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks to lead the Eagles to their first regional title.
"Getting through Mifflin, Eastmoor and Brookhaven to win district was big because all three of those teams are excellent," Lombardo said. "I'm very proud that we were able to avenge our loss to Brookhaven and become the first Watterson team to win regional."
The Eagles also won their second consecutive CCL title this season, going 8-0 to finish ahead of Hartley (5-3), St. Charles (5-3), DeSales (1-7) and Ready (1-7).
"Our first goal is always to compete for the CCL championship, and for us to go 8-0 in the league for the first time in my 20 years coaching here was a big accomplishment for our guys," Lombardo said.
Watterson loses two seniors but only one starter in Jackson, who averaged a team-high 14 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists and was named second-team all-state and first-team all-league and all-district.
Expected back are four starters in Calhoun, Hughes, Lehmann and Grieser. Geraghty, who started both state tournament games, also is expected to return.
Calhoun, Hughes and Lehmann made first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Grieser was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"Our seniors provided us with excellent leadership and were a big reason we had the season we had," Lombardo said. "What's exciting is we have four starters coming back, along with several valuable players off our bench, so I like our potential for next season."
Bowling teams had winning seasons
The boys bowling team finished 11-10 overall, including 10-5 in the 16-team Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-Central Division to tie Grandview for fifth, behind Ready (14-1), Columbus Academy (12-3), DeSales (11-3) and Brookhaven (11-4).
The Eagles rolled a 3,293 to finish 12th in a 30-team sectional tournament Feb. 16 at Columbus Western Bowl behind champion Newark (4,030), with Hilliard Davidson (3,438) securing the ninth and final district-qualifying spot.
Junior Dave Carter rolled a 568 series to finish 15th of 166 competitors and earn one of the nine individual district-qualifying berths. He placed 12th (604) of 117 competitors at district Feb. 22 at HP Lanes, as Granville's Jon Massey (657) secured the third and final qualifying spot for the state tournament held March 2 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Carter had a team-high 180.7 game average, followed by seniors Michael Liston (167), Tony Viola (165), Aram Hosenfeld (153.4), Adam Forshey (144.6) and Phillip Andrews (141.5).
The girls team finished 10-5 overall and placed fourth (7-3) in the 11-team COHSBC-Central, behind Ready (10-0), Northland (9-1) and Hartley (8-2).
The Eagles finished 13th (2,560) in a 25-team sectional Feb. 16 at Columbus Western Bowl behind champion Briggs (3,757), as senior Katie Eberhart tied for 10th (506) of 157 competitors and advanced to district.
Eberhart placed 37th (457) of 118 competitors at district Feb. 23 at HP Lanes, as North Union's Stormie Jamison (529) secured the third and final qualifying berth for state held March 1 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Senior Miranda Barnewell had a team-best 139.1 game average, followed by senior Colleen McDaniel (137.3), Eberhart (131.9), senior Claire Pappa (120.4), senior Mary Merkle (115.8) and junior Jaide Reinhard (104.2).