Before the Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high school boys basketball teams played their regular-season finale Feb. 17, Thomas baseball coach Stephen Gussler received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 900 fans.

Before the Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high school boys basketball teams played their regular-season finale Feb. 17, Thomas baseball coach Stephen Gussler received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 900 fans.

The coaches and players from both teams, as well as more than 700 of the fans in the stands, wore blue shirts bearing Gussler's name.

After the host Cardinals beat the Wolves 53-47, Thomas senior center Jordan Cowgill said the victory meant far more than earning community bragging rights.

The game provided the community a chance to show support for Gussler, who is battling colon cancer.

"We sold more than 700 shirts to raise money for coach Gussler's family to help pay for some of his medical bills, and that was the awesome thing about tonight," Cowgill said. "But we were hoping we could put on an exciting game and win, too, so we're really happy with how this turned out."

The Wolves opened the second half with a 7-2 run to take a 31-27 lead on two free throws by Brian Hanks with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But the Cardinals answered with an 11-2 run sparked by three baskets by Will Hill to take a 38-33 lead by the end of the third.

Kilbourne pulled within 40-39 on two free throws by Seth Hill before Cowgill scored back-to-back layups and Lance Leslie made a short jumper to expand the lead to 46-39.

"(Kilbourne coach Tom Souder) has done a great job with his team and they played hard," Thomas coach Bob Miller said. "We didn't always take care of the ball, which was partly due to Kilbourne's defense, but our defense was solid and our kids made big plays when we needed them."

Thomas took a 9-2 lead in the series and tied Dublin Coffman for second in the OCC-Central Division at 9-5, behind champion Upper Arlington (12-2) and a game ahead of Kilbourne (8-6).

The Cardinals also gained momentum heading into their Division I district tournament opener against Hilliard Davidson on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Marysville.

Senior wing player Chris Logsdon is averaging 11.9 points, senior guard Brandon Gleim is averaging 11.5 and senior point guard Davonte Peterson is averaging 9.5 for the Wildcats, who are 11-9.

Cowgill is averaging 15.4 points, followed by Will Hill (12.8) and Julian Henderson (11.7)

"They have three go-to scorers, just like we do," Davidson coach Kevin Logsdon said. "But when you build your defense around taking one or two of those guys away, someone else needs to step up, and we both have a number of players who are capable of doing that."

The Wildcats swept the regular-season series, winning 44-43 on Dec. 9 at home and 56-51 on Jan. 24 at Thomas.

Peterson and Cole Lawson each scored 11 points to lead Davidson in the first meeting, while Henderson scored 23 to pace the Cardinals. Kevin Logsdon scored a career-high 26 points in the rematch, while Cowgill scored 17, Hill had 14 and Henderson 11.

"The old adage is that it's hard to beat a team three times in the same season and we hope that's the case," Miller said. "Davidson has a very quick, athletic point guard and we have to hold him down. The coach's son is probably their best 3-point shooter and he can score in a variety of ways. We struggled defensively against Davidson probably more than any other team because they're very experienced and patient with the ball. So, obviously, we need to be patient and do a better job of defending them this time around."

A close game could favor the Wildcats, who are 6-3 in contests decided by six points or fewer.

The Cardinals are 4-9 in contests decided by six points or fewer.

"No one has dominated us, but our difficulty has been finishing games," Miller said. "We need to play with patience and make positive plays so we can reverse the results of these close games."

The winner plays 10th-seeded Grove City or Westland in the second round March 1 at Marysville.

Kilbourne opens the district tournament against Darby on Friday, Feb. 24, at Reynoldsburg.

The winner plays second-seeded Walnut Ridge or Whetstone in the second round Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Reynoldsburg.

The Wolves swept Darby in OCC-Central play, winning 53-44 on Dec. 6 at home and 58-40 on Jan. 20 at Darby.

Darby beat Davidson 50-43 on Feb. 17 to improve to 6-14 overall. Junior guard Nic Baker and freshman point guard David Dennis each scored 12 points.

City League runner-up Walnut Ridge is 18-1 and led by senior forward Kai Turner, senior guard Roy Alexander and senior guard Fred Hargrove.

Whetstone, 5-15 overall, is led by senior guard Marvin Draper and junior guard Steven Foster.

Connor Dahn is averaging a team-high 12.7 points for Kilbourne, followed by Tyler Stern-Tucker (10.8), Hanks (9.6) and Seth Hill (4.8).

"Everybody tried to do their own thing (against Thomas) and we didn't work together as a team," Stern-Tucker said. "To beat Darby again, we need to get back to playing as a team."