Community bragging rights and a serious dose of momentum will be on the line when the Worthington Kilbourne High School boys basketball team plays host to Thomas Worthington on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Above everything else, though, Thomas coach Bob Miller said everyone involved with the game should make sure they savor the experience.
"I've been coaching a long time and I've told our kids that it doesn't get any better than this game," said Miller, who is in his 31st season. "This is a chance to play your rival in front of a packed house with the entire community watching. Both student sections will be full and a lot of alumni always show up for this game, too.
"(Kilbourne coach) Tom Souder and I are good friends and it's a friendly rivalry between the kids, so it always makes for an exciting and fun atmosphere."
On Dec. 14, Thomas gave up only 15 second-half points at home while earning a 50-32 victory over Kilbourne to take an 11-3 lead in the all-time series.
The Cardinals led Kilbourne 18-17 at halftime before outscoring the Wolves 15-6 in the third quarter and 17-9 in the fourth.
"Our two teams know each other really well and we're pretty similar in a lot of ways," Miller said. "I think it's going to come down to who does a better job of executing their offense and finishing while avoiding turning the ball over, because I expect both teams to play tough defense."
Center Alex Baughman scored 17 points, point guard Jaret Gerber scored 13, guard Nick Veal scored eight and forward Yemi Sholesi scored seven to pace Thomas in the first meeting.
The Cardinals lost to Olentangy Liberty 53-40 on Jan. 10 to drop to 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Central Division. On Jan. 8, they defeated Hilliard Davidson 39-37 in a league game, as Gerber scored 10 points and Baughman scored eight.
Gerber is averaging 10.5 points and 4.1 assists, and Sholesi is averaging 9.9 points and 8.5 rebounds and has made 54 percent of his field goals. Forward Tyrrell Stewart is averaging 8.8 points, and Baughman is averaging 8.6 points and had made 65 percent of his field goals.
"Both teams will fight hard defensively, so the team that can stay focused and execute better offensively will be the winner," Souder said. "The key for us is we need to make other teams play the way we want them to play by dictating the tempo and playing good defense.
"Thomas has a tough, heady kid (Gerber) running the point. Their big kids (Baughman and Sholesi) do a real nice job of running the floor, too, so we have to be ready to defend that."
Point guard Seth Hill scored 13 points and wing player Connor Silva scored nine for the Wolves in the first meeting.
Kilbourne was 8-5 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing New Albany on Jan. 14.
The Wolves lost to Olentangy Orange 50-49 in a league game Jan. 10 but defeated Columbus West 50-43 on Jan. 8 and beat Hilliard Davidson 64-47 on Jan. 11.
Post player Michael Chambers had 30 points and 11 rebounds against Davidson and 22 points and 13 rebounds against West.
Through 13 games, Chambers averaged 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds and made 57 percent of his field goals. Hill averaged 10.7 points and 3.5 assists, wing player Griffin Dahn averaged 8.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, and post player J.C. Bartok averaged 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.
"Kilbourne runs multiple defenses and they switch them up well, so we'll need to be ready to identify how they are defending us," Miller said. "(Hill) is an experienced point guard and he's very quick and athletic. We've been a solid defensive team for most of the year and we'll need to defend well across the court because they have a number of weapons."
Both coaches said they can't allow the hype of their community showdown to overshadow the league games they play this week.
Thomas plays a league game Friday, Jan. 17, at Upper Arlington and Kilbourne plays host that day to Delaware in a league game.
"We're both playing tough league opponents on Friday and that's got to be our priority until we get to Saturday," Souder said. "An important factor could be which team has more of its legs left after playing a league game the night before. One nice thing about playing Thomas is it is always an easy game to get the kids excited about playing."