DeSales Roundup: Perseverance carries Stallions boys basketball team to district title

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
DeSales' Cruz Sanchez cuts down a piece of the net as the Stallions celebrate a 42-38 win over host Jonathan Alder in a Division II district championship game March 6.

For both personal and selfless reasons, Obed Achirem couldn’t have been more proud to make two key baskets in the final minute of the DeSales boys basketball team’s Division II district championship victory. 

The senior forward missed all of his junior season with a broken right hip suffered in football, so he was relegated to watching from the bench as his teammates won their first district title since 2016. Their 32-30 overtime win over Jonathan Alder in a district final ultimately turned out to be the Stallions’ final game because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

On March 6 in a rematch with the top-seeded and host Pioneers, Achirem capped a possession sustained by two offensive rebounds by making a layup to put second-seeded DeSales ahead 38-36 with 59.8 seconds to play. After Desmond Watson made two free throws, Achirem made a layup in transition with 8.2 seconds to go to cap a 42-38 win and put the Stallions within two wins of their first state tournament appearance since 2009.

“We’ve been locked in for a while and we’ve seen the results. We knew this would be a hard game, but I’m just glad we found a way to win,” Achirem said. “I’ve been playing a lot of tall people but (Jonathan Alder has a) 6-(foot-)9 (center in Gavin Heimlich) so it was hard to get buckets around the rim. I had to adjust, keep pump faking. Eventually they’d call fouls and I’d get my buckets.

“I was frustrated after the first half (because I was scoreless) but my coaches just told me to keep pushing and eventually the points would come.”

DeSales defeated Chillicothe Unioto 40-37 in a regional semifinal March 11 and was 17-7 before playing Byesville Meadowbrook in a regional final March 13 at Chillicothe Southeastern. The Stallions put a five-game winning streak on the line in the regional final after going 3-5 in their final eight regular-season games.

Two of those losses were to eventual Division I district champions Olentangy Liberty (65-51 on Feb. 17) and Westerville Central (54-50 on Feb. 13).

According to Watson, that challenging schedule is partly why DeSales feels prepared for anything it might see in the postseason.

“(Low-scoring) is just how it is playing (Jonathan Alder). It’s almost like a rivalry now,” Watson said. “It’s always tough. They lock down and they do their homework, but momentum really is everything with us. Once we get one explosive play, momentum just goes up from there.

“This means twice as much because it’s the same team we beat last year. It definitely meant a lot.”

The regional champion will face Dayton Chaminade Julienne or Watterson in a state semifinal March 20 at University of Dayton Arena. The Stallions swept the Eagles in CCL play, winning 60-48 on Jan. 15 and 59-56 in overtime Jan. 20.

The state final, against Akron Buchtel, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Gates Mills Gilmour Academy or Lima Shawnee, is March 21 at UD Arena, which is playing host to state for the first time since 1987.

Watson entered the regional final seven points away from surpassing 2010 graduate Nick Kellogg for the program’s all-time scoring record. Kellogg, who played at Ohio University, finished with 1,654 points.

“We don’t take anything for granted. We take it one step at a time,” Achirem said. “To keep playing and make this kind of contribution, it means a lot.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave