The Watterson High School boys basketball team hasn't had to rely on a particular player to carry the offensive load this season, and coach Vince Lombardo doesn't expect that to change now that the Eagles are two victories away from defending their Division II state championship.
Watterson, which was ranked fourth in the final state poll, faces a familiar foe in a state semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at Ohio State in Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. The teams met in the state final a year ago, with the Eagles winning 55-52 to capture their first state championship in the program's 55-year history.
"A great strength of our team is that any of our guys are capable of stepping up and having a big game at any time, depending on how teams are defending us," said Lombardo, whose team defeated New Concord John Glenn 60-46 in a regional final March 15 at Ohio University to improve to 25-2. "If you take one or two of our guys away, we still have three or four other guys on the floor who are capable of scoring. The great thing about this team is our guys don't care who our leading scorer is as long our team does well. Our guys have been very unselfish all season and we'll need to keep that up in the state tournament."
Matt Hughes averages a team-high 13 points, with Matt Lehmann (12) and Andy Grieser (11) also averaging in double figures. Cody Calhoun and Joe DiOrio are averaging eight points apiece and Tommy Geraghty, Ryan Lewis and Greg Oman have combined to average around 10 points coming off the bench.
DiOrio leads the team in rebounding, averaging eight per game. Hughes is averaging six rebounds and Lehmann and Grieser both are averaging five.
"Our (scoring) balance is definitely the key for us," Lehmann said. "Any of us can step up and have a big game on any given night. It doesn't matter who it is as long as someone gets the job done."
St. Vincent-St. Mary, which has won seven state titles with the last coming in 2011, is led by 6-foot-7 sophomore guard V.J. King, 6-5 senior guard Jalen Hudson, 6-5 junior forward Jibri Blount and 6-2 junior guard Josh Williams.
The 12th-ranked Irish defeated Poland Seminary 54-42 in a regional final March 15 to improve to 19-9.
King had a team-high 14 points. Williams, a Division I college prospect, had 11 points and six assists and Hudson, who has signed with Virginia Tech, had nine points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Blount, the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback and NFL Hall of Famer Mel Blount, had eight points, six steals and five rebounds.
The semifinal winner will face second-ranked Norwalk or sixth-ranked Dayton Thurgood Marshall in the state final at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 22, at Ohio State.
Norwalk beat Lima Bath 54-53 in a regional final March 15 to improve to 27-1. Senior point guard Ben Haraway had 20 points and four assists and senior wing player Jeff Thomas had 16 points and seven rebounds.
Thurgood Marshall improved to 22-5 with a 62-49 win over Cincinnati Taft in a regional final March 15. Derrick Daniels, a 6-8 sophomore center, had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots and senior guard Tremayne Hawkins had 14 points.
"I think this is going to be an outstanding final four because all four of us are very good teams who are capable of winning the tournament," Lombardo said.
Watterson led John Glenn 22-20 at halftime before outscoring the Little Muskies 38-26 in the second half en route to its second regional title in program history.
"This championship is very special to us," Lombardo said. "This is a special group of players and I'm so proud of the way they were able to handle this season, with the pressure on trying to defend their state title, the way they have."
With DiOrio and Hughes both sitting on the bench for stretches of the game in foul trouble, Lehmann scored a career-high 24 points to go with his 12 rebounds and four steals.
DiOrio and Calhoun had 12 and 10 points, respectively. Grieser had eight points, five rebounds and three steals and Lewis had six rebounds.
Drew Rackley had 22 points and six rebounds to lead John Glenn, which finished 22-4.
The game was tied at 28 with 2 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter before Lehmann scored five consecutive points to spark a 7-0 run.
"I knew I had to step up because Matt and Joe are two of our better players and they were out of the game at times in foul trouble," Lehmann said. "Our man-to-man defense has been very strong this season, and it really worked well in this game."
Watterson rallied from a four-point halftime deficit to beat eighth-ranked Logan Elm 62-45 in a regional semifinal March 13 at Ohio University.
Hughes had 26 points and Grieser scored 11 for the Eagles, who outscored the Braves 34-13 in the second half after trailing 20-15 after the first quarter and 32-28 at halftime.
Dillon Young had 20 points to lead Logan Elm, which finished 23-3.
Girls swim team losing Grubbe
The girls swimming and diving team's streak of seven consecutive CCL titles came to an end this season, but coach Megan Downing was pleased with the Eagles' postseason performance.
Senior Madeline Grubbe placed 20th in the 100-yard backstroke in 59.28 seconds in the Division I state meet, which concluded Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, and teamed with junior Alicia Margello, sophomore Carrie Horan and junior Taylor Brown to finish 20th in the 200 medley relay (1:51.12).
The Eagles failed to score at state as Cincinnati Ursuline (281) won.
Watterson finished 12th (81) at district Feb. 15 at Ohio State behind champion Upper Arlington (522.5) as 24 teams scored and finished second (153) in the 13-team sectional Feb. 8 behind host UA (494).
"It was really exciting to see so many of our girls do well at sectional, district and state," Downing said. "Getting Carrie back in the water in January so soon after she had (shoulder) surgery (Dec. 18) and then seeing her get to state as part of our medley relay was our biggest highlight of the year."
Watterson finished second (319) in the CCL meet Jan. 25 behind Columbus School for Girls (442) and ahead of Hartley (193), DeSales (170) and Ready (32).
Horan won the league title in the 100 breaststroke (1:10.01).
"It was sad to lose our streak of CCL titles, but it was nice to see our entire team come together and do our best in that meet," Grubbe said.
Watterson loses seven seniors, led by Grubbe.
Among those expected to return are Brown, Horan, Margello, sophomores Molly DeSantis, Jenna Durham and Kaleigh O'Reilly and freshman Mae Welty.
"Our seniors all did our best and it was an amazing experience to swim at state with my teammates one last time," Grubbe said. "We had a young team overall, and I think they have a lot of potential and will excel next year."
The boys team did not have any seniors this season. Among those expected back was its lone Division II district qualifier in sophomore Austin Leahy, who finished 13th in the 100 breast (1:09.1).
Also expected to return are junior Isaiah Mefferd, sophomore Michael Carmody and freshmen Daniel Cobb and Joseph Heutel.
Watterson finished fourth (54) in the CCL meet behind St. Charles (481), Hartley (249) and DeSales (120). The Eagles finished 37th (4) of the 41 teams that scored at district Feb. 14 at Ohio State and finished fourth (88) in the five-team sectional Feb. 8 at UA behind champion Grandview (309).
Leahy placed second in the 100 breast (1:11.06) at sectional.
"We only had five boys on our team this season, but they all improved and it was nice to send Austin to district," Downing said. "Hopefully, all five of them will come back and we'll build on our numbers next season."
Boys bowlers losing only district qualifier
The boys bowling team is losing its only Division II district qualifier in senior David Carter.
Carter rolled a 582 three-game series at district Feb. 22 at HP Lanes to finish 16th of the 76 competitors who played three games. He fell 23 pins behind the third and final individual to qualify for state, which was held Feb. 28 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Watterson finished 18th (3,232) in the 30-team sectional Feb. 14 at Sawmill Lanes behind champion Buckeye Valley (4,195). Carter finished fifth (649) to advance to district.
Also competing at sectional were junior Harry Shaw (71st, 474), senior Steven Stiegelman (80th, 455), junior Tony Pulsinelli (83rd, 442), junior Joey Merkle (145th, 227 in two games) and junior Elliott Taylor (162nd, 122 in one game).
Watterson finished 5-8 overall and in the 15-team Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-Central Division to place 10th behind champion DeSales (14-0).
Carter had a team-best 187.1 game average in league matches, followed by Shaw (151.7), Stiegelman (148.5), Merkle (123) and Pulsinelli (122.9).
The girls team finished 4-7 overall and in the 13-team COHSBC-Central to finish eighth behind champion Ready (12-0).
Freshman Claire Tillman was the Eagles' only Division I district qualifier, finishing 92nd (288) of the 94 competitors who played three games March 1 at Eastland Lanes. She finished 246 pins behind the fourth and final individual to qualify for state March 8 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Watterson finished 27th (2,316) at sectional Feb. 21 at Eastland Lanes behind champion Briggs (3,345) as 37 teams scored.
Tillman finished 80th (373), followed by freshmen Nicole Stock (89th, 355), Natalia Francescan (100th, 342), Cecelia Baker (150th, 231 in two games) and Rachel Bigley (179th, 191 in two games).
Baker had a team-best 125.1 game average in league matches, followed by Tillman (115.3), Stock (112.7), freshman Elizabeth King (105.9), Bigley (103.1), Francescon (101) and freshman Brianna O'Rielly (100.1).