The Watterson High School boys basketball team relied on numerous players to make clutch plays en route to capturing its first Division II state championship last season.
That formula has continued this season, helping the Eagles win their first seven games to stretch their program-record winning streak to 30 games.
"We have confidence in each other and in our whole team that someone is going to step up and make a play when we really need one to win," senior wing player Andy Grieser said. "We don't have one go-to player. We have a lot of different guys who can get it done."
The Eagles pulled off dramatic victories in their last two games, defeating St. Charles 57-55 in overtime Jan. 3 to improve to 2-0 in the CCL and beating Brookhaven 46-43 on Jan. 4.
Watterson trailed St. Charles 51-48 after Sean Hennessey made a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining, but senior wing player Matt Lehmann received the inbounds pass, dribbled once to his right and hit a 3-pointer from about 23 feet to force a four-minute overtime.
"We run that play in practice all the time and the ball could have come to me or Grieser, depending on who is open," Lehmann said. "I was probably a little deeper than I was supposed to be, but there wasn't much time left so I took the shot. It felt good leaving my hands and I always know my shot's going in. I've been fortunate enough to make a lot of other clutch baskets in the past, but that one was exciting because of the situation and how the crowd reacted."
With the score tied at 55 in overtime, Grieser drove the lane and converted a layup with one second remaining to give the Eagles the win.
Senior post player Matt Hughes finished with a team-high 14 points. Lehmann had 13 points and seven rebounds and Grieser added 12 points. Hennessey led St. Charles with 23 points, including five 3-pointers.
"That was a good play where we had five options and anyone could have scored," Grieser said. "But I knew that time was running low and Matt Hughes set a great pick for me, so when I saw the lane open for a drive, I just exploded through it.
"I'm not as clutch as (Lehmann), so that basket is up there with the most exciting I've ever scored."
The following night, the Eagles trailed Brookhaven 37-32 after the third quarter but outscored the Bearcats 14-6 in the fourth to remain undefeated. Their last loss came against Brookhaven, 59-56 on Jan. 5, 2013.
Hughes led the Eagles with 19 points, including a pair of free throws in the final minute. Brookhaven had an opportunity to force overtime, but Curtis Armstrong missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
"We've had a lot of close calls during our winning streak, including last year's state championship run, but our guys have been able to find something inside themselves to keep pulling these games out," coach Vince Lombardo said. "We've had a number of different guys come up big for us in close games, whether it was making a big shot or a timely defensive play."
Two of Watterson's victories have come against 2013 Division II state semifinalist Vincent Warren and defending Division IV state champion Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
The Eagles beat Warren 61-39 on Dec. 23 as Lehmann (14), Hughes (12) and Joe DiOrio (10) scored in double figures.
Watterson beat Villa Angela-St. Joseph 68-65 in the Play 4 Cancer Shootout on Dec. 28 at Massillon Jackson.
Lehmann had a team-high 20 points, with Cody Calhoun (14), Hughes (13) and DiOrio (11) also scoring in double figures as the Eagles rallied from a 33-28 halftime deficit.
"Villa is a talented team and they have a big Division I recruit (in 6-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg) who hit a couple of 3s and did a lot for them," Lombardo said. "Playing this kind of competition will only make us better.
"I've been happy with the play of our starters and we have three guys who are coming off the bench and making a big difference for us in Tommy Geraghty, Ryan Lewis and Greg Oman."
Watterson returns to CCL play Friday, Jan. 10, when it faces DeSales at Otterbein University.
The Eagles swept the Stallions last season, winning 58-41 and 58-33.
"DeSales is playing real hard with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and they will be fired up for us," Lombardo said. "Playing games like this in front of large crowds in nice facilities will help prepare us for the tournament, but our first priority is to continue to win league games and to win the CCL."
Guza twins fare well in wrestling tourney
The wrestling team finished 13th (32 points) in the 14-team Kevin Cleveland Tournament on Jan. 4 at Dublin Scioto behind champion Lewistown Indian Lake (190).
Placing in the top five were Michael Guza, who went 4-2 and placed fourth at 132 pounds, and Mark Guza, who went 3-2 and finished fifth at 126.
The Eagles will compete Friday, Jan. 10, and Saturday, Jan. 11, in the Licking Heights Invitational.
Girls basketball team squanders lead in loss
The girls basketball team lost to DeSales 42-37 on Jan. 4 to fall to 1-2 in the CCL and was 6-3 overall before playing Westerville North on Jan. 8.
Watterson led the Stallions 32-24 after the third quarter but was outscored 18-5 in the fourth quarter.
Makenzie Bevins had 12 points and Dominique Garrett scored eight to lead the Eagles.
Watterson will play host to Columbus School for Girls in a CCL game Thursday, Jan. 9.
Last season, the Eagles swept CSG, winning 72-12 and 71-10, en route to tying DeSales and Hartley for the league title.