Victories have been scarce for the Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high school boys basketball teams, but one team is guaranteed to get a win Saturday when the Wolves play host to the Cardinals in an OCC-Central Division game.
The Cardinals were 0-5 overall and 0-3 in the OCC-Central before playing Westland last Tuesday. The Wolves earned their first win last Friday, defeating Westland 58-55 to improve to 1-4 and 1-3.
Kilbourne has yet to beat Thomas. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 3-0, winning 54-30 in the first round of the Division I district tournament in 1993, 49-25 in the 2006-07 season and 54-43 last season.
"It's always big to play Thomas Worthington in any sport," Wolves guard Nathan Sparks said. "We want to have a good game and get things turned around. A win against Thomas would really help us. The morale of the team would increase. We'd feel more confidence."
This meeting with be the first time Thomas and Kilbourne have played each other as league rivals. The teams meet again Jan. 16 at Thomas in the second round of league play.
"Hey, everyone wants bragging rights," Wolves coach Tom Souder said. "And now we're in the same (league). It's a fun night. These kids grew up playing against them at a young age and they played against them in junior high."
"It's a game the community will have great interest in," Cardinals coach Bob Miller said. "I expect there will be a packed house and a lot of noise. It will be a great atmosphere. It's a great game for the kids. It's a game they look forward to."
Kilbourne is young and inexperienced with new starters at every position, but it also is determined.
"We're tired of losing," Sparks said before the win over Westland. "In practice, we're starting to step up, it's getting intense. People are starting to get more focused on our goals and what they have to do to win every night."
Chances are the frustration in Thomas' locker room is growing with each loss, but guard Nick Girardi said the Cardinals are maintaining a positive attitude.
"We're keeping our heads up and working hard in practice to get better," he said.
Victory was within the Cardinals' reach in three of their losses -- to Upper Arlington 69-62 in overtime in a league game Dec. 9, to Hilliard Davidson 57-53 in a league game Dec. 12 and to Marysville 50-46 on Dec. 16. They held a lead in the final minute of regulation against UA and Davidson.
"I feel like we could've won almost all of our games," Girardi said.
"We're not finishing games," Miller said. "I don't know if those (three) games could've been much closer. They basically went down to the wire. We're proud of the progress we've made, but we're not playing the way we need to play."
Like Kilbourne, Thomas was hit hard by graduation, though to a lesser extent, and must gain experience and build chemistry and continuity. The Cardinals returned only one starter in point guard Eric Easley and have just three returning letterwinners in Easley, Girardi and guard Ty Craig, who has yet to play because of a leg injury.
According to Miller, Craig is out indefinitely.
Thomas also has been without post player Ben Willis since the opener with a knee injury, though he may be back in the lineup against Kilbourne. Willis had nine points and eight rebounds in his varsity debut, an 83-58 loss to Marion-Franklin on Dec. 5.
"We've had two guys go down with an injury, yet we've been very competitive," Miller said.
Despite the fact that Thomas entered its game against Westland last Tuesday still searching for its first win, Sparks respects the Cardinals, particularly their shooting ability.
"They're a good shooting basketball team," he said. "When you play a team like that, it's about playing good defense, getting a hand up in their face and contesting their shots."
Girardi led the Cardinals in scoring through five games, averaging 12.0 points, followed by Easley (9.6) and Alex Miller (7.6). Sparks leads the Wolves in scoring at 15.0 points per game, followed by Bryant Bechtel (11.4).
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Kilbourne and Thomas boys basketball teams:
*Dec. 16 -- Lost to Hilliard Davidson 64-44. Nathan Sparks scored 16 points.
*Last Friday -- Defeated Westland 58-55. Sparks scored 17 points and Bryant Bechtel had 15.
*Saturday -- Home vs. Thomas
Of note: The Wolves are 1-4 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Central.
Dec. 16 -- Lost to Marysville 50-46. Eric Easley scored 13 points.
*Last Friday -- Lost to Dublin Coffman 69-48. Nick Girardi scored 16 points.
*Last Tuesday -- Played Westland
*Saturday -- At Kilbourne
Monday -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Of note: The Cardinals were 0-5 overall and 0-3 in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.