Boys Basketball: Hilliard Davidson aiming for bounce-back season

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Senior forward Jack Fantin and Davidson believe they have the talent to bounce back from last season's disappointing finish of 4-19 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Central Division.

With six players back and the addition of three others, the Hilliard Davidson boys basketball team expects to return to being one of the area’s top programs.

After advancing to a Division I district final and going 20-6 in the 2018-19 season, the Wildcats slipped to 4-19 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Central Division a year ago and are determined to atone for that finish.

“We have some new guys,” fourth-year coach Tim Congrove said. “When you mix those in with that junior class we have, and we have four seniors returning as well, we have some guys with varsity experience. The expectations are high. We still have a lot of work to do. It’s been a different offseason for everybody. We’re not quite able to do what we typically do.”

Regular-season contests and scrimmages in the school district are paused until Dec. 20 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with teams permitted to continue practicing.

All OCC contests have been postponed through Dec. 17.

Davidson is competing in a realigned OCC-Central with Bradley, Dublin Coffman, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington.

“It’s going to be a battle every night in the division we’re in,” Congrove said. “We have to keep that in mind and focus on the present and focus on getting better now. You never know when we might be shut down.”

The top returnee is 6-foot-3 junior guard Ryan Paris, who averaged a team-high 10.6 points last season and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

“It’s disappointing,” Paris said of the delayed start. “We’re just hoping to have some sort of a season. There’s still hope that we can play. Even if it’s shortened I’d be OK, as long as we get something because we’re all very excited with the group of guys we have. We’re very confident.”

Junior guard Jonathan Weir (6-0) averaged 7.9 points a year ago and was special mention all-league. Other returnees are seniors Jack Fantin (6-3, forward), Jayden Humphrey (6-1, guard) and Jack Simon (6-3, center) and junior Daniel Neidert (6-3, guard).

The Wildcats have added 6-5 junior forward Jayden Nervis, who previously played for Moravian Prep in Hudson, North Carolina.

Junior guard Jared Frey (6-5) and sophomore forward Peyton Frey (6-6), who are brothers and live in Hilliard, have transferred from St. Charles.

Last season, Jared Frey was first-team all-CCL and honorable mention all-district.

Senior guard Austin Lippolis (5-9) and junior forward Ethan Ruhe (6-2) also are looking to contribute.

“I try to keep our guys level-headed,” Congrove said. “I’ve mentioned (last season) a few times. We still have to get a lot better, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The guys are working hard. Our chemistry is getting better.”

A.J. Mirgon and Bradley are looking forward to returning to the court after losing out on a chance to play for a regional title last winter because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Jaguars waiting to

resume winning ways

Brett Norris was ready for Bradley to start the season, but the seventh-year coach is in a familiar situation: playing a waiting game.

On Nov. 19, Hilliard schools delayed the start of winter sports competitions through Dec. 20 because of the coronavirus pandemic — the same scourge that prematurely ended the 2019-20 season with the Jaguars on a nine-game winning streak.

Bradley, which won 16 of its last 17 contests, improved to 25-2 overall by defeating Walnut Ridge 59-32 on March 11 in a Division I regional semifinal at Ohio Dominican. A day later, however, the OHSAA indefinitely postponed the postseason because of the pandemic. On March 26, the remainder of the postseason was canceled.

“Forever and ever, you have a season,” Norris said. “Even if we had lost the next game, as coaches and players you always have that moment of closure in the locker room. You have that and then you honor the season with a banquet, and we didn’t have that either.

“It’s hard to come to grips with that. All of a sudden, the season is over and you don’t see each other — you can’t see each other — for about four months. It was really hard.”

The Jaguars were supposed to return four starters but have to settle for three because junior forward Tayshaun Mayfield will miss the season with a knee injury suffered during football. The three starters back are senior forward A.J. Mirgon, senior guard Keaton Norris and junior forward Peyton Murphy.

“We’ll be leaning on those guys,” said coach Norris, whose team won its fourth consecutive OCC-Cardinal title last season, going 14-0. “We’re a mix of experience and youth. We have some experienced guys and you mix in some freshmen. They not only have experience but experience on good teams.”

Keaton Norris (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) averaged 11.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists last season, and Mirgon (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) averaged 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Murphy (honorable mention all-league) averaged 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Also in the rotation are senior guard Tison Alexander, senior post player Charlie DeLuca, junior forward Nick Bolin, freshman guard Jeb Bischoff and freshman forward Cade Norris.

“We’ve made tremendous progress from day one of practice after having no spring and no summer,” coach Norris said. “When you lose all of that time in the offseason, it puts you in a bind, but I’m really proud of the way we’ve progressed.”

The Jaguars have won 57 consecutive league contests and were scheduled to begin OCC-Central play Dec. 18 at Liberty and Dec. 19 at home against UA, but those dates fall before the district-mandated Dec. 20 return. They also are scheduled to play Westland on Dec. 22 at home.

—Scott Hennen

Darby features 

young group

Darby returns a solid nucleus that includes 6-3 sophomore guard Cam Gilkerson, who saw significant playing time as a freshman.

“Everyone on our team wants to turn the program around,” said Gilkerson, whose squad finished 6-17 overall and 5-9 in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago. “We want to surprise everyone with how good we’re going to be since the program hasn’t been the greatest the last couple of years. We really think that we have a special group here and that we can really do something.”

Gilkerson is projected to be a starter this season.

“We’re returning five players from last year and we only lost three seniors,” he said. “Most of our players are returning. We should be pretty good.”

With no seniors in the program, the future looks bright for the Panthers, according to seventh-year coach Chris Maul.

“We don’t have any seniors this year, but I wouldn’t say that we’re inexperienced,” Maul said. “We have five guys who have significant varsity experience. We have a handful of j.v. kids from last year from a quality j.v. team who are going to provide us a lot of key minutes. We’re excited about the group that we have.”

Other key returnees are junior guards Blake Horvath (6-2), Gio Roberts (6-2) and Matt Sech (6-1) and sophomore guard Javi Quimba (5-10).

The roster also includes juniors Jake Baird (6-0, forward), Jackson Carey (5-11, guard), Nate Ruland (6-2, guard) and Alex Smith (6-5, forward) and sophomore Ben Marsh (6-3, forward).

A key loss to graduation was forward Jacob Foster, who was honorable mention all-league.

“This group is great,” Maul said. “They’ve really bought into what we’re doing on both sides of the ball. They want to be good. They’ve had success at lower levels, like seventh grade and eighth grade. They expect to do well and they expect to be competitive and they expect to compete in our league and those are the kind of kids that we want.”

The Panthers are competing in the realigned OCC-Cardinal with Dublin Jerome, Marysville, Olentangy, Olentangy Berlin and Thomas Worthington.

Darby is scheduled to play host to Central Crossing on Dec. 22.

“We’ve watched the numbers closely, like I’m sure a lot of coaches and programs have,” Maul said of COVID-19. “We’ve done a great job following all the protocols. The kids have really adapted well. When it comes down to it, the kids just want to play.

“If it means there’s limited fans or no fans, or the games get backed up or postponed, as long as we can get a full league slate as well as a few out-of-conference games, we’d take that.”

—Frank DiRenna

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSPORTS

BRADLEY

Coach: Brett Norris, seventh season

Top players: A.J. Mirgon, Peyton Murphy and Keaton Norris

Key losses: Matt Allocco, Chris Mayfield and Tayshaun Mayfield

Last season: 25-2 overall

2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Bradley (14-0), Thomas Worthington (10-4), Delaware and Dublin Scioto (8-6), Worthington Kilbourne (6-8), Darby and Dublin Jerome (5-9), Olentangy Berlin (0-14)

2020 postseason: Defeated Central Crossing 51-26; def. Lancaster 54-38; def. Westerville South 50-41; def. Newark 60-50; def. Walnut Ridge 59-32 in Division I regional semifinal

DARBY

Coach: Chris Maul, seventh season

Top players: Cam Gilkerson, Blake Horvath, Javi Quimba, Gio Roberts and Matt Sech

Key losses: Mekhi Evans and Jacob Foster

Last season: 6-17 overall

2020 postseason: Lost to Dublin Coffman 74-51 in first round of Division I district tournament

 DAVIDSON

Coach: Tim Congrove, fourth season

Top players: Jayden Nervis, Ryan Paris, Jack Simon and Jonathan Weir

Key losses: Paul Koppenhoefer and Evan Tekancic

Last season: 4-19 overall

2019-20 OCC-Central standings: Coffman, Marysville and Upper Arlington (8-2), Central Crossing (4-6), Davidson (2-8), Westland (0-10)

2020 postseason: Lost to Pickerington North 51-34 in second round of Division I district tournament