Boys Basketball: Westerville Central Warhawks win second consecutive district title

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group

As his players celebrated a second consecutive Division I district championship, Westerville Central boys basketball coach Kevin Martin stood nearby, fighting back tears. 

Martin had just witnessed his team rally from a nine-point deficit in the final 3 minutes, 28 seconds to beat Pickerington North 41-39 in a district final March 6 at home. 

“I’m happy for the kids because they got the opportunity taken away from them last year to play in a regional semifinal,” Martin said. “This was important to win this to get them back and give them the opportunity. Back-to-back (district titles with) last year being the first in school history is a tribute to the group of kids that we had last year and this year.” 

Central coach Kevin Martin finishes cutting down the net and raises it triumphantly to his players after the Warhawks' 41-39 win over visiting Pickerington North in a Division I district final March 6.

Central beat Delaware 43-40 in a district final a year ago and was scheduled to play Thomas Worthington in a regional semifinal before the remainder of the postseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

“It is a great feeling,” Tasos Cook, the Player of the Year in the district and OCC-Ohio Division, said of winning a second district title. “We are glad to be able to continue (after) what got taken away from us last year. We have worked through so much to get to this point and we will continue to work to reach even higher goals.” 

The win set a program record for victories for the Warhawks, who then improved to 21-2 with a 56-44 win over Hilliard Bradley in a regional semifinal March 11 at Westerville South.

Central played Gahanna in a regional final March 13 at South, with the winner facing Cleveland St. Ignatius or Lima Senior in a state semifinal March 20 at the University of Dayton. The state final is March 21 at the same site. 

Instead of celebrating a district title, Central appeared to be on the verge of closing its season when it trailed North 37-28 with just over three minutes remaining. 

The Warhawks used defensive pressure and Landon Tillman’s clutch shooting down the stretch to pull out the win. 

Tillman’s 3-pointer with 2:18 remaining pulled Central to within 37-34. Quincy Clark followed with a steal and layup, and after Cook and North’s Casey George traded baskets, Tillman hit the game-winning 3 from the corner with 1.8 seconds left. 

“Landon Tillman made two unbelievable tough shots and that’s just the type of kid Landon is,” Martin said. “People doubted him his whole career and for him to do that, I’m so happy for him and our team in general.” 

Cook led Central with 12 points, and Clark and Tillman added 11 apiece. 

“Last year we had it taken away from us, unfortunately, but we’re back now,” Tillman said. 

The Warhawks’ path to the district final was a challenge, as they held off Hilliard Davidson 44-39 in a semifinal March 3. 

Clark scored 16 points and Cook added 11 as Martin earned his 200th career win. 

“It’s hard to win district championships in Division I and any level, but it’s unbelievable the fight and the drive these kids have because we push them hard and the love we all have for each other and our program, it’s special,” Martin said.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank