As more positive results have come since the 2018 portion of its schedule began, the Watterson High School boys basketball team has been stressing the importance of improving its defensive play.
Although the Eagles are slightly bigger than they were a season ago, the tallest players listed on their roster -- junior Jimmy Patton and sophomore Aiden McGinn -- are on the slightly undersized side for post players at 6-foot-5.
Offensively, coach Vince Lombardo believes a lineup led by junior guard Zach Sawyer gradually has been progressing.
Still, the Eagles had scored 50 points or fewer in five of their previous six games before playing Ready on Feb. 5.
It might not be glamorous, but winning low-scoring games with "team defense" could be the best formula for success going forward, according to Lombardo.
"We'll have individual matchups that we've got to come out on the favorable side within the ballgame, but nobody out there is playing defense by themselves," Lombardo said. "We've got to have good help defense, and that's one thing that's really getting better. Prior to last year, we had good size. This team isn't particularly big. We talk about how we've got to work hard and win the boards. A good portion of the first half (of the season) we were fouling way too much, and we're starting to reverse that trend."
The development of Sawyer, a 6-footer who was averaging 14 points through 15 games, has been the brightest spot offensively.
Patton was averaging 10.5 points, and both junior guard Stephen Garrett and sophomore guard Chris Crane were averaging seven points.
Garrett scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter of a 42-39 victory over Grove City on Jan. 30.
Watterson was 8-8 overall and 4-2 in the CCL after beating St. Charles 44-43 on Feb. 2 on a basket by senior wing player Cort Marbaugh with 10 seconds remaining.
The Eagles, who played Worthington Christian on Feb. 6, find out their Division II district tournament drawing Sunday, Feb. 11.
Sawyer broke through with a 21-point performance in a 65-36 victory over Buckeye Valley on Jan. 9 and scored 16 in a 53-42 win over DeSales on Jan. 26 that gave the Eagles a season sweep of the Stallions.
"We've just got to keep moving forward now," Sawyer said. "We're coming along and trying to move on to the next step. Defensive-wise, if we're playing hard defense, we'll get that offense going. It starts in practice, and we're getting after it.
"(My points are) coming in the flow of the offense. When teams give me a chance to hit the shots, I'm hitting them."
Girls team attempts to get back on track
The girls basketball team received the 13th seed for the Division I district tournament and will open the postseason at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at home against 40th-seeded Delaware.
Watterson dropped to 12-8 overall with a 43-39 loss to Gahanna on Feb. 3 and is second in the CCL at 4-2 behind Hartley as it closes the league schedule Thursday, Feb. 8, at home against Ready.
Hartley, which beat the Eagles 51-39 on Feb. 1, is 5-1 and can earn the outright CCL championship if it beats DeSales on Thursday, Feb. 8. If the Hawks lose and Watterson beats Ready, then the two would share the title.
Lainey Billing had 15 points against Hartley, which snapped Watterson's five-game winning streak in the series.
The Eagles have lost three of their last four games.
"We're got to work on ourselves," coach Tom Woodford said. "The upsetting thing was when we started this season, there were expectations for us that were pretty low. There were times this year where we were on the rise and exceeding expectations.
"There were built-in excuses (entering the season) that we're so young and we lost six seniors. There have been times we started to build and then it's disappointing we've fallen back to where that was."
Hockey team locks up CHC-Blue title
The hockey team was 20-10-1 overall and 11-5 in the Capital Hockey Conference-Blue Division after beating New Albany 6-3 on Feb. 2, losing to Olentangy Liberty 8-0 on Feb. 3 and beating Springboro 3-1 on Feb. 4.
With consecutive wins over DeSales (6-1 on Jan. 20), Cincinnati Moeller (6-3 on Jan. 21) and Thomas Worthington (6-5 on Jan. 27), the Eagles locked up first place in the CHC-Blue and a spot in the Blue Jackets Cup, which runs Thursday, Feb. 8, through Sunday, Feb. 11.
Through 28 games, Nick Kuraly was leading all CHC-Blue players in goals with 25. Other key offensive contributors have included Kyle Naderhoff (15 goals), Adam Fallon (12) and Jack Geswein (11), while goaltender Max Graham had a .913 save percentage.
Naderhoff had a team-high 11 assists.
Below are the coming schedules for the Watterson boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and swimming & diving teams:
Feb. 9 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Feb. 13 -- At Whetstone
*Feb. 8 -- Home vs. Ready. The Eagles beat the Silver Knights 48-32 on Jan. 20.
*Feb. 8 -- Ready at Sawmill Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 10 -- Sectional meets at Upper Arlington. The girls are in Division I and the boys are in Division II. The winner of each swimming event and 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites advance to the district meet Feb. 16 (Division II) and Feb. 17 (Division I) at Ohio University. There is no diving at sectional.