The Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team trailed by 12 points after the first quarter of a Division I regional semifinal March 13, but it didn’t press.
Instead, the Golden Bears’ ease in breaking the press brought them to the brink of their first state tournament appearance in 75 years.
Kevin Vannatta scored a game-high 29 points, and UA turned the tables on Pickerington Central to pull away for a 63-53 win at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The Bears improved to 25-1 and will play Northland (22-4) in the regional final at 7 p.m. March 15 at the Coliseum. The winner will advance to state, where UA hasn’t appeared since 1939. UA did not play Northland during the regular season.
Danny Hummer added 13 points for UA, which trailed 17-5 after the first quarter and 26-20 at halftime. Vannatta, who had 14 points in the first half, pulled the Bears into a 32-all tie with a 3-point play and a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter.
Vannatta’s foul shot 29 seconds into the fourth quarter gave UA the lead for good at 37-36, and moments later he wrestled the ball away from Central’s Rodney Culver and fed Logan Richter for a layup that made it 39-36.
The basket came in the midst of a 15-2 run for the Bears.
“I’m not sure we broke them down. We managed to execute much better,” UA coach Tim Casey said. “We built the lead, then all of a sudden they had to chase. And we have a lot of capable guys who can handle the ball, don’t hide from it and make plays. We stayed aggressive in that stretch. I don’t think it was anything magical.”
Richter added two more open layups and a one-handed dunk with 56 seconds to go.
Connor Kern scored 23 points and Jalen Tate added 14 for Central.
“It was a game we could have won,” said Tigers coach Eric Krueger, whose team finished 20-6. “We tried to keep it together. They did a great job defensively. They’re a great team.”