It didn't take long for first-year Westerville Central High School boys basketball coach Donovon Barrett to realize the popularity and intensity of the Westerville rivalries.
His Warhawks completed a sweep of their first-round OCC-Cardinal Division games against Westerville opponents with a 72-61 win Jan. 3 at South.
"This is what's great about being in (the OCC) and specifically (the OCC-Cardinal) with the Westervilles," Barrett said. "It was a great, spirited, hard-fought game.
"Everybody just played their butts off on both ends and fortunately we came out on top."
Central also defeated North 58-55 on Dec. 20 at home.
Since losing at Groveport 54-53 in their opener Nov. 30, the Warhawks had won seven consecutive games and were 5-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Hilliard Darby on Jan. 8.
Against South, Central opened a double-digit lead in the first half before fending off a rally early in the second half.
South trailed 37-21 late in the second quarter, but D.J. Dingess' 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the deficit to 39-28.
The Wildcats continued to rally in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 45-43 on Dingess' jumper with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left.
Central, however, went on a decisive 10-0 run to build a 55-43 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Kwamel Wade led the Warhawks with 18 points and nine rebounds. Eric James had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Will Maynus and Jalon Talley each scored 10 points.
"We kept our composure and when they were pressing us, we kept the ball strong," James said.
Against North, Central took a 14-5 lead after one quarter before the Warriors went on an 18-3 run to take a 23-17 lead at halftime.
The Warhawks outscored North 19-8 in the third for a 36-31 lead. North then went on a 7-0 run to take the lead before James' 3-pointer gave his team the lead for good.
James had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Wade added 11 points and 12 rebounds to lead Central.
"We keep getting better," Barrett said. "That's what we talk about. We don't talk about wins and losses a lot. We talk about just getting better and we know if we get better, good things are going to happen for us, and we have gotten better. It's evident."
Central should receive another pair of tests when it visits Dublin Jerome on Friday, Jan. 10, and plays host to Gahanna on Saturday, Jan. 11.
Jerome was 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing South on Jan. 7, and Gahanna was 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Pickerington North on Jan. 7.
South coach looking for early intensity
South coach Ed Calo was pleased with his team's rally against Central and comeback win Dec. 28 at New Albany, but he said the Wildcats have to stop falling behind by large margins early in games.
Against Central, Andre Wesson led the Wildcats with 16 points despite playing most of the game in foul trouble. Jelani Rogers scored 15 points and Dingess had 11.
"We thought we could get back in it," Calo said. "They played harder than us. They played better than us. They outrebounded us. They just did a better job all the way across the board and we didn't deserve to win. I'm proud of the fact our kids fought back, but really disappointed in the overall execution and effort."
The Wildcats trailed New Albany by 21 points early in the fourth quarter before rallying to win 64-62.
Dingess led the comeback with three 3-pointers, and he finished with a game-high 21 points. Rogers had 17 points and Wesson added 12.
The Wildcats were 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Jerome on Jan. 8.
"Being down 21 at New Albany is not an ideal situation," Calo said. "First off, you have to look and say, 'Why are you down 21? What did you do to get there?'
"We're better than that. We have a group of people who are really solid. We have a group of people who I really believe in, but we just have to learn how to play 32 minutes. That's what we're working on."
North looks to bounce back
North is hoping to bounce back from a 62-60 home loss to Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 3 when it plays host to South on Friday, Jan. 10.
The Warriors are 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Bradley's Brandon Glenn made seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter and scored 24 points, while Isaiah Keen led the Warriors with 22 points.
"It was a good basketball game," coach Shan Trusley said. "It came down to the final possession. Both teams played really hard. We tip our cap to Hilliard Bradley. We've seen them a couple times this year. We thought they were going to break through at some point in the season. They've played a lot of teams tough and (against us) they were able to put together four quarters."
Trusley said the Warriors need to move on from the loss.
"We've put the loss behind us," Trusley said. "We try to learn from it. We play nine games this month, so the kids are going to have plenty of opportunities to play games and win some basketball games. We're looking forward to the month of January."