The Centennial High School girls basketball team concluded a dominant run through the Division II district tournament by capturing its first title.
The third-seeded Stars won their four district games by a combined score of 263-127, and they won each contest by at least 18 points.
Centennial was 18-7 before playing Zanesville Maysville in a regional semifinal March 4.
"It's an incredible feeling to become the first Centennial girls basketball team to put a banner on our gymnasium wall," senior post player Aryn Brnusak said.
The Stars defeated fourth-seeded Licking Valley 61-42 in a district final March 1 at Gahanna as Alyssa Dean scored 20 points, Akiya Brown had 10 and Izzi Luaces and Marissa Robertson each added eight.
Centennial took a 25-15 halftime lead, led 36-23 after three quarters and never let Licking Valley pull closer than 11 points in the fourth.
"This game was like the rest of our tournament games in that we took control from the beginning and held onto it," coach Darrin Green said. "Our girls have played good defense throughout the tournament and Licking Valley never came close to making us worry that they were going to come back to beat us."
On Feb. 26, the Stars beat 15th-seeded Caledonia River Valley 65-47 in a district semifinal at Gahanna. Dean scored 29 points, Robertson had eight and Brown added seven as Centennial avenged a 56-53 home loss to River Valley in the second round a year ago.
"This was a really personal game for all of us who lost to them last year," Dean said. "We knew we were going to have to play a lot better than we played last year, and we did."
The Centennial-Maysville winner advanced to a regional final Friday, March 7, at Zanesville against Athens or Millersburg West Holmes. The regional champion plays in a state semifinal March 13 at Ohio State.
Green was expecting tougher competition in the regional tournament, "but if we play defense like we did in the district tournament, we can play with anybody," he said. "Izzi and Brooke Spann have been our best defenders, and Alyssa has been able to make big baskets whenever we need one. We just need to keep getting better and playing better with each tournament game and we can go a long way."
Boys team upsets third-seeded Aces
Boys basketball coach Roosevelt Osborne chose to press Granville early to try to prevent the host Blue Aces from settling into their half-court offense and utilizing their height advantage in the post.
That game plan worked better than anticipated, as the 12th-seeded Stars forced third-seeded Granville into 18 turnovers in a 67-49 victory Feb. 26 in the second round of the Division II district tournament.
Centennial improved to 15-8 before playing fifth-seeded Eastmoor Academy in a district semifinal March 5. Granville finished 18-4.
"Granville is tall, but they had trouble with our press and we made it hard for them to get the ball inside to use their height against us," Osborne said. "We started pressing them in the first quarter and I was surprised by how effective our press was. They turned the ball over 18 times and we were able to score easy baskets off most of their turnovers."
The Stars led 24-14 after one quarter and 29-20 at halftime before expanding their lead to 49-31 at the end of the third quarter.
"When Granville tried to press us in the third quarter, we started making layups and it was all over," Osborne said.
Joe Thomas had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Stars. Octavius Luke had 16 points and four assists, Gyai Gyamerah scored 12 points and Anthony Slappy had 10 points and four assists.
"They wanted to pack it in defensively and take Joe away from us, but we made a lot of mid-range and outside shots and to draw them out of their zone defense," Osborne said. "They ended up having a lot of problems stopping Joe because he's got a good mid-range shot and he's so strong inside."
With a win over Eastmoor, the Stars would advance to a district final Friday, March 7, at the Fairgrounds Coliseum against fourth-seeded Johnstown or sixth-seeded Bloom-Carroll.
The district champion plays in a regional semifinal March 13 at Kettering Fairmont against Bellefontaine or Cincinnati Taft.
Osborne said he is confident his team can win a district title if it continues to feature balanced scoring.
Through 23 games, Thomas was averaging team highs of 18.3 points and 10.9 rebounds. He was followed in scoring by Luke (15.5 points, 3.7 assists), Gyamerah (12.6 points, 1.5 steals) and Slappy (8.7 points, 4.9 rebounds).
In the first round of the tournament Feb. 22, the Stars defeated 18th-seeded Big Walnut 78-71 as Luke scored 27 points, Thomas had 17, Gyamerah had 14 and Slappy had 12.
"We don't care who we play in the tournament because we're not scared of anybody," Osborne said. "As long as we continue to move the ball and get everyone involved, I feel good about our chances.
"Big Walnut used a box-and-one defense to try to take Gyai out of the game and Octavius stepped up and had an excellent game. When teams try to take away one of our guys, we have others who can step up and score."