The last time the Thomas Worthington boys basketball team won a district title, junior guard Jalen Sullinger’s father, J.J. Sullinger, played on the team.
Now that he’s won one himself, Sullinger – who often receives credit for the Cardinals’ success – thinks junior forward Tyrese Hughey deserves the spotlight because of his district final performance.
“I think Tyrese Hughey, he played the game of his life today,” Sullinger said after seventh-seeded Thomas defeated fifth-seeded Pickerington North 52-48 in a Division I district final March 7 at Ohio Dominican. “He really came through for us. He led us to the (win) and I can’t thank him enough. He played his best game.”
Hughey led the Cardinals with 22 points and nine rebounds in a back-and-forth contest that came down to the closing seconds.
“It started with the coaching staff. It started with watching film and being prepared in practice,” said Hughey, who helped Thomas improve to 21-5 and win its first district championship since 2001. “We sat down before practice every day, watched film on them and prepared. We had to be prepared for whatever they threw at us.”
Coach Sean Luzader said Hughey has been rising to the occasion in the postseason.
“Today, like the last three games, we’ve challenged him to be the Division I recruit, top player he can be, and he’s showing it,” Luzader said.
The next challenge for Hughey and the Cardinals will be playing first-time district champion Westerville Central in a regional semifinal Thursday, March 12, at Ohio Dominican. The winner will play Hilliard Bradley or Walnut Ridge in the regional final Saturday, March 14, at Ohio Dominican.
In OCC-Cardinal Division play, Thomas lost to Bradley 49-46 on Dec. 6 and 53-38 on Jan. 17.
The district champion plays in a state semifinal March 20 at Ohio State.
Trailing North 29-27 at halftime, the Cardinals made adjustments in the third quarter and took a 39-33 lead into the fourth.
“We had to get back in transition better, and we had to box out and rebound better, because that’s how they beat you,” Luzader said. “They don’t beat you in a half-court offense, but they have unbelievable athletes and they run the floor on rebounds.”
The Panthers kept the game close and took a late lead when Savion Marshall Hamilton tipped in a missed shot from Chris Scott to put North ahead 47-46 with 34.5 seconds remaining.
Sullinger scored with 8 seconds left to give the Cardinals a 48-47 lead. Scott then drove to the basket, but Thomas junior forward Omari Effiong stood his ground and took a charge.
“He’s been that guy that always gives every bit of effort,” Luzader said of Effiong.
Sullinger finished with 13 points, and junior guard Maurice Collins scored eight.
Wrestlers’ season ends at district
Two members of the wrestling team competed in the Division I district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby, concluding the Cardinals’ season.
Sophomore Channing Thornton (120 pounds, 30-17) went 2-2 and sophomore Michael Blain (132, 26-11) went 1-2.
“They’ve been progressing and have come a long way,” coach Brad Todd said of Thornton and Blain, both of whom qualified for district as freshmen. “Obviously with the strides they made this year from last year, having losing records last year to 20-plus win seasons, we expect a big jump next year as juniors.”
Coming off a fourth-place finish in a sectional Feb. 29 at Marysville, Thornton was pinned in the first round at district by Lancaster’s Aidan Agin in 47 seconds but rebounded with a 14-6 major-decision victory over Hilliard Bradley’s Caden Ellison in the first consolation round.
Thornton won a 6-5 decision over Dublin Jerome’s Austin Wagner in the second consolation round before losing to Grove City’s Sean Burns 8-7 in the third round of consolation.
After placing second at sectional, Blain began district by pinning Newark’s Rhys Fairall in 5:37. He then lost to Gahanna’s Charles Williams 6-2 in a quarterfinal and was pinned by Bradley’s Deacon Sawchuk in 2:47 in the second round of consolation.
In addition to Thornton and Blain, the Cardinals had four district alternates – three of whom are expected to return. The district alternates were junior Majed Ahmad (160, 23-7), freshman Jaden Fields (182, 16-11), junior Mason Gates (220, 30-11) and senior Nick Harris (145, 20-17).
“We’re hoping to get six-plus to districts next season and shoot through (to) state with the progression we expect out of them,” Todd said.
Girls bowlers wrap up season
The girls bowling team concluded its season by finishing 13th (2,723) in the Division I district tournament Feb. 29 at HP Lanes behind champion Westerville Central (3,599).
Junior Hannah Innes led with a 449 three-games series, placing 34th of 108 bowlers.
Senior McKenzie Barritt (47th, 430), junior Paige Stephens (409, 57th) and senior Samantha Haunty (68th, 382) also rolled three games.
The boys team concluded its season in the Division I sectional Feb. 21 at HP Lanes.
For the boys, senior Nate Johnson was first-team all-OCC-Cardinal.
For the girls, senior Ruby Matthews-Napper and Stephens were second-team all-league and Barritt was third-team all-league.