The game plan the Worthington Christian boys basketball team put together against top-seeded Harvest Prep on March 6 in a Division III district final at Ohio Dominican was effective.
The second-seeded Warriors hoped to "disrupt" the flow of the game, according to coach Kevin Weakley, by running at times but controlling the tempo by keeping the ball in the hands of sophomore guard D.J. Moore as much as possible.
Worthington Christian built a 17-4 lead that swelled to as many as 14 points in the first half.
Harvest Prep senior Christopher Anthony, last year's state Player of the Year and the Central District's all-time leading scorer with more than 2,300 career points, missed six of his first eight shots from the floor.
He did, however, make his first 14 free-throw attempts and Harvest Prep began to chip away at Worthington Christian's lead.
Harvest Prep took its first lead at 34-32 with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter before Worthington Christian answered with a 9-0 run.
Harvest Prep tied the game at 47 on a basket by Mario Davis with two minutes left and got the ball back with 1:25 to go and held for a final shot. Anthony missed that shot from 3-point range, but was fouled and made two of three free-throw attempts with .7 of a second remaining to give his team a 49-47 victory.
"We thought we had to keep the score in the 40s or low 50s to win and we did that," Weakley said. "We really executed our game plan."
Worthington Christian finished 20-5 overall for the second consecutive season but made it a step further in the postseason than it did last year, when it lost in a district semifinal.
The Warriors went 9-3 in the MSL-Ohio Division to share the championship with Whitehall after the teams split their two meetings during the regular season.
Worthington Christian rolled into the district final, having beaten 14th-seeded Fairbanks 59-33 on Feb. 28 in the second round and eighth-seeded Galion Northmor 60-35 on March 3 in a district semifinal.
Guard Derrick Hardin, one of four seniors along with guards Nakimba Mullins and Steven Spayde and forward Brien Wall, had 18 points against Northmor.
Against Harvest Prep, Hardin and junior guard Tyler Kindberg both had 15 points and Moore scored 11.
"First of all, we wanted to take it right to (Harvest Prep) from the start, making sure we followed the scouting report and doing everything we could to give us a chance to win," Moore said.
"Our whole team, our chemistry, everybody loves each other. We're so close and we found a way to connect. Especially these last couple games, we've been really jelling together and making sure we come out strong each game."
Hardin averaged 15.5 points and was named first-team all-district and Mullins averaged 6.5 points and was honorable mention all-district.
Spayde and Wall both averaged 3.5 points.
"Each (senior) kind of had their own role, Derrick and Nakimba in particular," Weakley said. "Nakimba's dad played at Worthington Christian and trusted me with his sons and they've been everything I could have asked for. They never complained, were great teammates and played their butts off all the time. They were warriors. Steven Spayde is a program kid, played in our (youth) league back in kindergarten and played all the way through, and Brien Wall has just been a great teammate. I've just been really fortunate to coach a tremendous group of young men who always valued the team before anything else."
Moore, who averaged 15 points and was first-team all-district, should be a top returnee next season along with Kindberg and junior forward Kobe Buford, both of whom averaged seven points.
Others eligible to return include junior forward Isaiah Hazelwood (6.0 points per game), junior guard Drew Faieta (4.5 ppg) and sophomore guard Jaiden Reynolds.
"(Moore) took a lot (against Harvest Prep)," Weakley said. "He was cramping, their hands were all over him and he just battled for four quarters. He's an incredibly tough kid and obviously very talented, but the thing about D.J. is that he's a phenomenal young man."