Given how balanced the Watterson High School boys basketball team's offense has been this season, junior post player Matt Hughes didn't expect to score a career-high 22 points in the Division II regional final against Lima Bath.
Hughes added a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocks to lead the Eagles to their first regional championship with a 57-47 win over Bath on March 16 at Bowling Green State University.
"We're a balanced team and anyone on this team could have had a game like I had here," Hughes said. "I just got some good looks at the basket and my shots were going in, so I kept shooting and playing hard to try to help my team."
Watterson improved to 26-1, extending its winning streak to a program-record 21 games, and advanced to a state semifinal, where it will face Kettering Alter at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at Ohio State.
Bath finished 23-5.
"It feels good to be a part of a team that's made Watterson history," senior post player Bryan Jackson said. "We'll always be remembered as the first Watterson team to set the bar this high."
Alter beat Dayton Dunbar 60-59 in a regional final March 16 to improve to 21-5, as 6-foot-2 guard Jaaron Simmons scored 26 points, including the winning basket with 9.6 seconds left. Other key players for the Knights include 6-1 guard Michael Spencer and 5-10 guard Nate Burger.
The semifinal winner will face Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary or Vincent Warren in the state final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Ohio State.
St. Vincent-St. Mary defeated Warrensville Heights 57-48 in a regional final March 16 to improve to 19-9, as 6-6 forward Nick Wells had 21 points 13 rebounds and three blocks and 6-7 freshman guard V.J. King had 11 points and two blocks.
Warren beat New Philadelphia 49-47 in a regional final March 16 to improve to 26-1, as 6-4 guard Evan French had 21 points and 6-4 guard Reese Patton scored 15 points.
"Defense has been our biggest strength all season and we feel confident we can defend against any team in the state," Jackson said. "We don't have any 6-7 or 6-8 guys on our team, but we're long and athletic and we use our speed and quickness to guard against bigger players.
"We need everyone to contribute on offense and defense, because anyone on our team is capable of stepping up and having a big day."
Watterson was 19-for-32 from the field against Bath and the Wildcats were only 19-for-50, including 5-for-23 on 3-point attempts. According to Bath coach Doug Davis, his team entered the game shooting 33 percent on 3-pointers.
The Eagles led 23-15 at halftime and never let their lead slip below four points in the second half.
Forward Matt Lehmann had 15 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, for Watterson. Guard Cody Calhoun had seven points and wing player Andy Grieser, who left the game in the third quarter with an injury, scored six.
"I thought there were two keys to winning this game, which were handling their pressure and containing their 3-point shooters," coach Vince Lombardo said. "I think we did well in both areas."
Watterson defeated Sandusky Perkins 53-34 in a regional semifinal March 14 at Bowling Green to advance to a regional final for third time in program history.
Calhoun had 14 points and Grieser and Hughes each scored 12 to lead the Eagles, who made their first two regional final appearances in 2004 and 2009.
Perkins finished 21-6.
"We played excellent defense and executed our game plan on both sides of the floor extremely well throughout the game," Lombardo said. "We were able to control Perkins with our defense pretty well.
"We also did a nice job of scoring in transition when we could, and we did a nice job of being patient offensively when we needed to."
Hockey team posts its best season
The hockey team put together what is by far its best season in its four-year history by finishing 5-18-1-1 overall.
Watterson had only one win in its first three seasons combined, as it went 0-15 in 2009-10, 0-21 in 2010-11 and 1-22 last season.
The Eagles finished third in the Capital Hockey Conference-Blue Division at 4-12-0-1 (9 points), behind Gahanna (19, 8-6-1-2) and Worthington Kilbourne (15, 7-9-1) and ahead of Olentangy (6, 3-14) and Dublin Scioto (0, 0-17).
Watterson wrapped up its regular season by defeating Toledo Ottawa Hills 7-1 in an outdoor rink Feb. 3 at Ottawa Park. It then lost to Olentangy 3-0 in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup consolation tournament Feb. 8 at Chiller Dublin before losing to 12th-seeded Gahanna 7-3 in the first round of the district tournament Feb. 16 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The Eagles were seeded 21st of 23 teams in the district.
"I attribute our success this season to our seniors," coach Don Lewis said. "Captains Denis McPhillips (forward), Grant Stover (forward) and Tim Silleck (defenseman) were instrumental in establishing the summer three-on-three events, conditioning and autumn captains' practices. These captains never missed a dry-land or weight-room training event and set the tone early for success. Keep in mind, these three seniors, together with (defensemen) Bobby Bryant, Henry Buster and Kyle Lister, were part of forming the first-ever Watterson hockey team and they suffered through winless seasons and humiliating defeats. They truly were baptized by fire, and this season was their reward and, frankly, this class may be irreplaceable."
In league play, sophomore forward Sam Magee had a team-high 17 goals and seven assists, sophomore forward Zac McKenna had six goals, Stover had 11 assists, junior goaltender Aaron King had an .876 save percentage and sophomore goalie Sean Roark had a .740 save percentage.
Magee scored all three goals in the season-ending loss to Gahanna.
"We had a full squad this season and 21 hockey players earned varsity letters," Lewis said. "While we lose seven seniors, we are returning a team who has tasted the victory that arrives only after enduring hard work and dedication and we're not looking back. We have a strong corps of experienced freshman coming into their own and look forward to continuing upon our upward path."
Wrestling coach excited for next season
The wrestling team loses one senior in Nicky DiCarlo, who was a district qualifier, but expects to return its other eight members.
DiCarlo went 2-3 and placed sixth at 145 pounds in the Division II district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Heath to finish 26-15 on the season. The top four finishers in each weight class at district advanced to the state tournament, which was held Feb. 28-March 2 at Ohio State.
Expected to lead next year's team are juniors Seth Cones (7-20 at 138), Mark Guza (22-16 at 132) and Michael Guza (24-18 at 126) and freshmen Ben Kring (7-14 at 120), Cody McKenzie (5-13 at 132) and Karrington Norwood (3-15 at 160).
Also expected to return are junior Mitch Werner, who missed most of the season with an injury, and sophomore Neejad Chidiac, who was ruled ineligible because he transferred from another school at the start of the school year.
"We are excited for the 2013-14 season," coach Jeff Kring said.
"We lose only one kid to graduation and expect to have everyone else back. We are anxious to have Mitch Werner and Neejad Chidiac competing for us next year.
"Optimistically, I think we will grow our team size two-fold next year. I have spoken to some other kids and anticipate the addition of a few new freshmen who were once part of our youth program, and I am hopeful that a few guys who have wrestled for the high school team in the past will find their way back and make an impact on our team next year."
Michael Guza also was a district qualifier, going 0-2 at 126. Watterson scored 10 points at district to finish 34th behind champion Uhrichsville Claymont (182.5) as 42 teams scored.
The Eagles tied Columbus South for ninth (53) in a 13-team sectional Feb. 16 at Licking Heights behind champion Whitehall (265.5).
DiCarlo went 2-1 and placed second Michael Guza went 2-2 and placed fourth. Mark Guza was a district alternate, going 2-2 and placing fifth.
Also competing at sectional were Cones (1-2) and Kring (0-2).
Watterson finished fifth (79) in the CCL tournament Feb. 2 behind St. Charles (263), Hartley (238), Ready (149) and host DeSales (137).
"We were a relatively young and inexperienced group as a whole this past season and, although many of our records do not show it, our kids improved a lot from start to finish," coach Kring said.