One of the biggest sources of pride the Watterson High School boys basketball team is taking from this season revolves around what transpired beginning in the final week of January.
After losing to Hartley 64-58 on Jan. 18 to fall below .500, the Eagles held their next 11 opponents to an average of 39.6 points while going 9-2.
Their slow-it-down defensive approach nearly earned them a Division II district championship, but they lost to top-seeded Columbus South 50-44 in a district final March 9 at Ohio Dominican to finish 15-10.
It marked the fourth consecutive season in which Watterson lost to South in the district tournament.
"We improved throughout the year," said coach Vince Lombardo, whose team shared the CCL title with DeSales. "I always feel like our teams make good progress, and it starts with things on the defensive end and with good shot selection. A big factor for us, too, is that we have several football players and it takes until January sometimes until they get their legs under them."
The seventh-seeded Eagles beat sixth-seeded Beechcroft 41-32 in a district semifinal March 5 at Hamilton Township, outscoring the Cougars 13-3 in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Jimmy Patton had 20 points, including eight in the final period.
Against South, Watterson led 39-32 early in the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs rallied. Senior guard Zach Sawyer had 17 points and senior guard Stephen Garrett scored 13 for the Eagles.
"It's great because we started off a little bit slow at the beginning (of the season) and we've picked it up," Sawyer said. "It's our defense (that was) carrying us. When we hold teams to under 50 points, we do really well."
The Eagles are losing a six-member senior class that also included forwards Drew Davis, Aiden McGinn and Matt Rhomberg.
"I'm very proud of the effort," Lombardo said. "(South) did a tremendous job late in the game. South's pressure gave us some trouble and we couldn't quite hold them off.
"Overall, we played one of our best games of the year (against Beechcroft) and our guys did an outstanding job controlling the pace of the game. Sometimes a plan comes together and works well."
Sawyer averaged 15 points and was named first-team all-district and Patton averaged 10 points and was honorable mention all-district. Garrett averaged 6.5 points, Davis averaged 4.5 points and Rhomberg averaged four points.
Sophomore wing player Davis Boone, who had missed the previous six games with an injury, returned against South and scored three points. He averaged eight points.
Junior guard/wing player Chris Crane averaged six points and junior guard Mike Bruzzese averaged 5.5 points, while sophomore guard Sam Intihar saw increasing action over the course of the season.
Others eligible to return include junior forward Mason Graney and sophomore forward Noah Grayem.
"South is an outstanding team, maybe the best Central District Division II team since we made a couple trips to the state final (in 2013 and '14)," Lombardo said. "It's always great to win a couple tournament ballgames. To be back in a district final again is fantastic, a credit to our kids, our assistant coaches. Over the years, we've had outstanding kids to work with. From a program standpoint, we've had great opportunities to be successful."