The Newark Catholic High School boys basketball team had just defeated Toledo Ottawa Hills 48-36 in a Division IV state semifinal Friday morning inside Ohio State University's Schottenstein Center, yet the atmosphere in the postgame press conference seemed a little subdued.
That's because there's still one more win needed before the Green Wave, which is making its state tournament debut this weekend.
"It's a historic event, sure," senior forward Nate Adams said. "But we only get a banner if we win the state championship."
A 16-6 run during the second half erased any doubts as the Green Wave improved to 25-1 overall while advancing to meet either Dayton Jefferson Township or Bedford St. Peter Chanel in the state final at 5:15 p.m. Saturday. Keyed by Matt Dawson, the run increased a six-point advantage and gave Newark Catholic its biggest lead of the game at 42-26 with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
"That spurt was the difference-maker," coach Drew Meister said. "Keeping that separation is something you have to do in a big game like this."
Ottawa Hills, also in the state tournament for the first time, finished 24-2 as a 15-game winning streak ended.
Newark Catholic never trailed after Kevin Cox's 3-pointer from the right corner for a 9-7 lead with 1:39 left to play in the first quarter
"They were very good," Green Bears' coach John Lindsay said of the Green Wave. "They did a nice job setting screens. They had a great defensive effort. They had a lot of hustle plays. They hit their shots. They were better in every aspect."
Leading 26-20, Adams' three-point play kick started the game's 16-6 run with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter. Dawson scored seven consecutive points during the spurt after being held scoreless in the first half on 0-for-6 shooting from the field. Phil Taylor capped the run when Dawson fed him on the right baseline.
Ottawa Hills never got any closer than 47-36 after that.
Dawson finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. James Moerman had a pair of 3-pointers and 10 points for the Green Wave. Adams scored nine points, had 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and Taylor scored nine points.
Conversely, the Green Bears were just 1 of 12 (8.3 percent) from 3-point range and scored their fewest points of the season. The Green Wave limited leading scorer Elliot Browarsky to eight points, two of which came in the first half as Ottawa Hills trailed 18-15. Browarsky was averaging 19.2 points.
"I can't put into words what it'll mean to step on the court and play for the state championship," Dawson said.
A win would give the school its 25 th state title overall, including eight each in football and volleyball and six in baseball. The girls track and field and girls basketball teams also have state-title banners.
"It's a great feeling," Moerman said. "We've worked hard for this. We'll be ready."