The Worthington Kilbourne High School boys basketball team earned its most important win of the season last Friday when it rallied from an eight-point third-quarter deficit to beat Thomas Worthington 44-38 in front of a near-capacity crowd.

The Worthington Kilbourne High School boys basketball team earned its most important win of the season last Friday when it rallied from an eight-point third-quarter deficit to beat Thomas Worthington 44-38 in front of a near-capacity crowd.

The Wolves clinched community bragging rights by sweeping the Cardinals in OCC-Central Division play. Kilbourne won 49-31 on Jan. 15, marking its first win over Thomas. The Cardinals had won the first five meetings.

Even more importantly, Kilbourne strung together consecutive wins for the first time this season to gain some momentum heading into the Division I district tournament.

"This win was huge for our program, because we'd never beaten Thomas before this year," senior guard Nathan Sparks said. "We were behind the whole game, but we never gave up. We're starting to get some momentum on our side, and this gives us confidence we can do some damage in the tournament."

The Cardinals never trailed through the first three quarters and took their biggest lead of the contest, 30-22, on a 3-pointer by Ty Craig with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the third quarter. But the Wolves opened the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run and outscored the Cardinals 20-8 over the final eight minutes to win the game.

"That's probably as well as we've played all year, defensively, especially in the first half," Thomas coach Bob Miller said. "That's the best job we've done of taking the ball to the basket in awhile, but we didn't finish a lot of those opportunities.

"We had an opportunity to put some distance between us, but when the game was on the line, they made some plays and we struggled."

Sparks scored eight of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a short jumper that gave Kilbourne its first lead, 34-32, with 4:32 left.

In the fourth quarter, Kilbourne made eight of 11 field goals and turned the ball over only once, while Thomas made four of 13 field goals and had three turnovers. Craig scored 13 points to lead the Cardinals.

"Our kids just had great execution in the fourth quarter," Kilbourne coach Tom Souder said. "They ran our plays to perfection and had great looks. Nathan's such a tough competitor. He goes strong to the rim, and he's tough for anyone to defend.

"There was a great atmosphere. The community was the real winner of this whole deal. This was absolutely what we wanted going into the tournament."

Kilbourne opened the district tournament last Wednesday against Reynoldsburg, with the winner playing Central Crossing or Beechcroft in the second round at 8 p.m. Saturday at Lakewood.

The Wolves beat Central Crossing 60-54 on Jan. 5 and 58-42 on Feb. 8 but did not play Beechcroft this season.

In order for the Wolves to advance past the second round, Sparks said they must continue to rebound the ball the way they did in their most recent win over Thomas and in a 52-49 win over Hilliard Bradley on Feb. 13.

"Coach Souder always talks about how important rebounding and free throws are to our team," Sparks said.

"We outrebounded Thomas and Hilliard Bradley, and we got to the line and made our free throws in those games. We've got to keep that up in the tournament."

To bounce back from the loss to Kilbourne and win in the district tournament, Miller said the Cardinals need to do a better job of finishing their scoring chances.

Thomas played Pickerington North in its tournament opener last Wednesday, with the winner playing Olentangy Liberty or Olentangy Orange at 8 p.m. Saturday at Worthington Christian Middle School.

"We had a lot of good looks (last Friday) that we didn't finish, and we'll need to score more in the tournament," Miller said. "We're not going to beat anyone in the tournament with 30-some points. One positive is the way we played defense. Hopefully, we can take some of this defensive momentum with us into the tournament."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Kilbourne and Thomas boys basketball teams:

KILBOURNE

*Last Friday -- Defeated Thomas 44-38

Last Saturday -- Lost to Pickerington North 67-55

Last Wednesday -- Played Reynoldsburg in Division I district opener. The winner plays Central Crossing or Beechcroft at 8 p.m. Saturday at Lakewood. The winner of that contest will play Gahanna, Franklin Heights or Watkins Memorial in a district semifinal on March 6 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Of note: The Wolves were 9-11 overall before last Wednesday and finished 6-8 (fifth) in the OCC-Central.

THOMAS

*Feb. 16 -- Game against Hilliard Darby canceled

*Last Friday -- Lost to Kilbourne 44-38

Last Wednesday -- Played Pickerington North in Division I district opener. The winner plays Olentangy Liberty or Olentangy Orange at 8 p.m. Saturday at Worthington Christian Middle School. The winner of that contest will play Hilliard Davidson, Walnut Ridge or Westerville Central in a district semifinal on March 6 at the Fairgrounds.

Of note: The Cardinals were 5-14 overall before last Wednesday and finished 4-9 (sixth) in the OCC-Central.

*OCC-Central game