As the Westerville Central boys basketball team celebrated its Division I district title March 7 at Ohio Dominican, the players couldn't help but reflect on their history-making achievement.
The 13th-seeded Warhawks held off a second-half rally by 18th-seeded Delaware for a 43-40 win and the first district championship in program history.
"I remember saying at the end of our interview (in the preseason), our goal was to get a district championship and that's what we did," junior Tasos Cook said. "We worked all season for this. ... This is great. That was the biggest thing, we wanted to make history."
Central previously played in district finals in 2010, 2011 and 2014, but lost all three years to Northland. Todd Minney was the coach of those teams and now is in his second season as an assistant.
"It's a great group. They love each other and they're connected," coach Kevin Martin said. "They're the group that got the first one for Westerville Central."
Central led 27-15 at halftime before the Pacers came back. With the Warhawks trailing for the first time at 36-35, M.J. Davis hit a 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining to give his team the lead for good.
Landon Tillman made two free throws with 29.1 seconds left to help secure the title.
"We needed defensive stops down the stretch," Martin said. "We needed two big free throws from Landon Tillman, and we got them."
Tyler Beckel led the Warhawks with 15 points. Quincy Clark and Cook added 10 apiece.
"We always have to believe that if we play good basketball and things went our way then we had an opportunity to win a district championship," Martin said. "Our No. 1 goal was to win a conference championship and that didn't happen, but the next goal was always a district championship. Our kids have played three really good games (in the postseason). Defensively, we've been playing at a really high level. I couldn't be happier for our kids."
The Warhawks improved to 18-7 and will play Thomas Worthington in a regional semifinal Thursday, March 12, at Ohio Dominican. The Cardinals, who are 20-5, defeated Pickerington North 52-48 in a district final March 7.
"(Jalen) Sullinger is next in line of really good guards we have faced this season," Martin said. "(Tyrese) Hughley is big, athletic and playing well. I think (Omari) Effiong is a glue guy for them. He does a lot of the things that win you games. They are a good team, but our kids are ready for the next challenge."
The winner plays Hilliard Bradley or Walnut Ridge in a regional final Saturday, March 14, at Ohio Dominican, and the regional champion plays in a state semifinal March 20 at Ohio State.
Central advanced to the district final with a 65-62 win over third-seeded Columbus South on March 4 at Pickerington Central. Cook had 26 points, followed by Tillman with 13 and Davis with 12.
Sophomore wrestler to compete at state
Sophomore David Javier will represent the wrestling team in the Division I state tournament Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 15, at Ohio State.
Javier finished second at district March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby, losing to Dublin Coffman's Corey Crawford 4-2 in the final at 106 pounds.
Javier enters state at 48-3. He accounted for the Warhawks' 22.5 points at district, as they finished 22nd behind champion Coffman (174.5) as 40 teams scored.
"He has a great work ethic and he does everything he has to in the (practice) room," coach Jerry McSwords said. "He has composure, too. He has the drive. With all the matches he wrestled (last) weekend, it was wrestle to win and wrestle to win big. He's a great competitor."
Competing for Class A Elkin last season in North Carolina, Javier went 1-2 at 106 at state to finish 47-3.
"This is pretty exciting because coming from North Carolina to Ohio. Ohio is a lot tougher and being guaranteed as a state qualifier is very emotional," Javier said. "This is big pressure for me, but not really for me because I've always been under pressure while wrestling. ... I want to win state."
Also at district, Caleb Scheideger (132), Gary Steele (145), Logan Moore (170) and Josiah Mair (195) all went 0-2. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Girls bowlers roll at state
The girls bowling team competed in its third consecutive Division I state tournament March 7 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
The Warhawks finished seventh (3,036) during qualifying play, behind first-place Springfield (3,340), before losing to second-seeded Wapakoneta 3-1 in a best-of-five Baker series in the first round of championship play.
Gahanna, which was seeded fifth, went on to win the state title.
"We felt we had a really good chance to make a deep run, so we found ourselves in a tough spot coming out of the gate in the championship bracket with a tough opponent," coach Tony Gonzalez said. "We still had our opportunities. We felt we had the talent to go a little deeper, so it was a little disappointing. Overall, we can't complain."
Freshman Deja Curry-Brown led the Warhawks by finishing 19th of 103 bowlers with a 567 three-game series. Senior Reace Gonzalez finished 26th (552), followed by junior Stephanie Showalter (55th, 486), freshman Payton Hartgrove (66th, 466) and senior Stephanie Carson (353, two games).
Central's season also included winning sectional and district titles along with COHSBC-A Division and OCC-Buckeye championships.
Gonzalez and Hartgrove were first-team all-OCC-Buckeye. Showalter was second-team all-league and Curry-Brown was third-team all-league.
Gonzalez led Central with a 195.7 average, followed by Hartgrove (178.6), Showalter (173.9) and Curry-Brown (173.1).
The boys team's season ended at district Feb. 29 at HP Lanes, as the Warhawks tied Jonathan Alder for fourth (3,764) with the top three teams advancing to state.
Senior Wesley Minke and juniors Malik Curry-Brown and Dominic Ferroni were first-team all-OCC-Buckeye. Sophomore Zack Smock was second-team all-league and freshman Kyle Richardson was third-team all-league.
Minke led the Warhawks with a 210.3 average, followed by Curry-Brown (201.5), Ferroni (193.5), Smock (182.2) and Richardson (177.3).
Junior Joey Cantieri and freshman Nico Wells also are eligible to return.