Boys Basketball: Westerville Central, DeSales, Worthington Christian ready for state tournament

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And then there were three.

The Westerville Central, DeSales and Worthington Christian boys basketball teams are preparing to represent their schools – and central Ohio – in the state tournament at the University of Dayton.

ThisWeek sportswriters Frank DiRenna, Dave Purpura and Jarrod Ulrey preview what’s in store for the Warhawks, Stallions and Warriors. During the games, you can follow them on Twitter at @ThisWeekFrank@ThisWeekDave and @UlreyThisWeek.

Westerville Central's Tasos Cook goes up for a dunk during a 45-44 win over Gahanna in a Division I regional final March 13 at Westerville South.

DIVISION I

Central hopes to carry the momentum from two dramatic postseason wins into its first state tournament appearance. 

The Warhawks (22-2) will play Cleveland St. Ignatius (19-6) in a semifinal at 8 p.m. March 20. The winner plays Mentor (25-0) or Centerville (24-3) in the state title game at 8:30 p.m. the next day.

Central advanced to state when Tasos Cook hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna 45-44 in a regional final March 13 at Westerville South. Sean Jones’ foul-line jumper with 1.9 seconds remaining had given Gahanna a 44-42 lead, setting the stage for Cook’s heroics. 

The Warhawks captured their second consecutive district title with a 41-39 win over Pickerington North on March 6 at home. Landon Tillman’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left provided the winning points. 

“Our tournament run has been wild,” Central coach Kevin Martin said. “It’s a really good group and they’re connected. I’ve been around this game for a long time and the teams that generally have the type of success we’ve had this year is a group that likes each other. They respect each other and they have fun playing together. We’re in a good spot. We’re playing really good basketball.” 

Central has won 14 consecutive games, and its 22 wins are a program record. 

Cook, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who was named Central District Player of the Year, is averaging a team-high 19.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. The Warhawks are getting 11.2 points per game from 6-3 senior guard Quincy Clark.

“(Central) is really good,” St. Ignatius coach Cameron Joyce said. “They’re led by two really good guards (Cook and Clark). They’re both seniors. They can break you down off the dribble. They can shoot it. They can score at all three levels and they have some other guys that play a role as well. 

“They’re athletic and they’ve won a lot of basketball games this year, so they’re going to be very confident. We have our work cut out (for us), but we’re excited about the matchup and we look forward to playing them.” 

St. Ignatius is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its lone state title. The Wildcats beat Cincinnati Elder 49-46 in the 2001 championship game. 

St. Ignatius earned the chance to play Central with a 56-44 win over Lima Senior in a regional final March 13. 

The Wildcats are led by 6-0 guard Jonathan Effertz (18.1 points) and 6-7 forward Henry Raynor (17 points). Raynor averages 8.5 rebounds, and 6-7 forward Will Yontek averages 6.1 rebounds. 

“They have such good size,” Martin said. “We’re not the biggest team out there. We start four guards. We start a 6-7 sophomore (Donovan Hunter). We bring in a 6-5 guy (Brad Leonard) off the bench with the ability to bring another 6-6 guy (Miles Poindexter) off the bench, but for the most part, we rely pretty deep with our guards. We’re a very good defensive team.” 

—Frank DiRenna

DeSales' Desmond Watson drives toward the basket during a 42-38 win at Jonathan Alder in a Division II district final March 6.

DIVISION II

If DeSales expected itself to be at state for the first time since 2009 behind Davidson recruit Desmond Watson and senior returnees Obed Achirem and Austin Mann, its semifinal opponent might have been considered a dark horse.

Dayton Chaminade Julienne was seeded fifth in the Southwest District tournament and had no first-, second- or third-team all-district selections. Senior center/forward Dan Nauseef (10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds) and freshman guard Jonathan Powell (12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds) earned honorable mention honors. Nauseef is 6-7 and Powell is 6-3.

“Their style is relentless pressure for 32 minutes. They press the whole game, so we’ll have to handle that,” DeSales coach Pat Murphy said. “They have a really talented freshman who they think will be like (Watson). He’s a 6-3, 6-4 wing, just a baby right now, but he’s super talented. They’re excellent. This will be a great challenge for us. It will be a battle, as it should be.”

The Stallions are seeking their second championship and first since 1987, the last time before now that state was played at UD.

Senior guard A.J. Solomon averages 9.8 points, 4.1 assists and 1.3 steals for Chaminade Julienne. Junior guard Luke Chandler averages 6.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists.

The Eagles are 15-5 and have won eight consecutive games, including a 66-46 victory against Watterson in a regional final March 13. The state tournament will be played less than two miles from Chaminade Julienne’s campus.

The Stallions and Eagles will tip off at 11 a.m. March 20.

“It’s really a team that has improved over the course of the season,” said Eagles coach Charlie Szabo, whose program is at state for the first time since 2015 and won its only titles in 1966 and 1970. “We were a young team with a couple veteran players. The young kids have grown into their roles.”

Watson, a Davidson recruit and the Central District Player of the Year, is averaging 24.8 points and scored 30 in a 58-44 regional final win over Byesville Meadowbrook on March 13 at Chillicothe Southeastern. That was the first time in five postseason games that the Stallions, who are 18-7, had allowed more than 40 points.

“We’ve played a lot of good players this year but from what I can tell, (Watson) is the best one we’re going to play,” Szabo said. “He’ll be a unique challenge.”

The DeSales-Chaminade Julienne winner will play Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary or Lima Shawnee in the state final at 5:15 p.m. March 21.

Led by Ohio State recruit Malaki Branham, SVSM is making its fifth consecutive state appearance and seeking its third title in five years and ninth overall. Junior guard Ramar Pryor, who comes off the bench, is a Cleveland State commit.

At 23-2, the Fighting Irish will face a 25-1 Shawnee team led by last year’s Division II state Player of the Year in senior forward George Mangas. He averaged 30.4 points as a junior and is 74-4 in his career.

Shawnee was 25-0 last year before the season was cut short by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Indians’ previous state appearances were in 2000 and 1965.

—Dave Purpura

Worthington Christian’s D.J. Moore soars over Proctorville Fairland’s Zander Schmidt during the Warriors' 50-28 win in a Division III regional final March 13 at Chillicothe Southeastern.

DIVISION III

It’s been 13 years since Worthington Christian has participated in the state tournament, but coach Kevin Weakley has extensive experience at that level.

In 1994, Weakley was a starting guard for the Warriors when they lost to McGuffey Upper Scioto Valley 56-54 in the Division IV state championship game. That was the program’s first appearance at state.

Worthington Christian won the Division IV state title in 1999 and was a state semifinalist in 2000 under former coach Ray Slagle before Weakley, then 24 years old, took over for the 2000-01 season.

In 2008, Weakley guided the Warriors to their third state championship game, where they lost 74-52 to New Knoxville.

They're competing at state in Division III for the first time.

“I just remember (being at the state tournament) was exhausting,” Weakley said. “You win a game and you don’t think about that. You think about the next one.”

The Warriors beat Proctorville Fairland 50-28 in a regional final March 13 at Chillicothe Southeastern and play Cincinnati Taft in a state semifinal at 5 p.m. March 19, with the winner to face Ottawa-Glandorf or Cleveland Heights Lutheran East for the title at 2 p.m. March 21.

Junior guard D.J. Moore, the Central District Player of the Year who averages 17 points, and senior guard Tyler Kindberg, who averages 13 points, have led Worthington Christian to a 27-1 record that includes a current 16-game winning streak.

Taft (16-4) is in the state tournament for the first time since it won the 2011 title.

The Senators are led by 6-5 sophomore guard Rayvon Griffith, who averages 23.5 points and was the Southwest District Player of the Year. 

Junior guard Mekhi Elmore averages 21 points and also was first-team all-district, while senior guard Yacco Nelson and junior guard Brandon Cromer scored 16 and 15, respectively, in a 63-39 win over Springfield Shawnee on March 13 in a regional final.

“We’re playing a really great Cincinnati Taft team and we’re going to have to play really great to be in that game,” Weakley said. “Our M.O. is being great defensively, so we’ll start there and we’ll have to figure out a way to score offensively.”

Lutheran East is 14-3 and Ottawa-Glandorf is 20-4 heading into their semifinal matchup at 8 p.m. March 19.

Senior guard Sirr Hughes, an Alderson Broaddus commit, and senior guard Collin Albert helped Lutheran East to a state runner-up finish in 2019. Senior Jay Billingsley, a 6-8 forward, is a Georgetown commit.

While the Falcons beat Creston Norwayne 74-55 on March 13 in a regional final, Ottawa-Glandorf defeated Johnstown 64-56 in a regional final that same day despite missing five of six free throws in the closing moments.

The Titans are making their first state appearance since winning the title in 2013. They are led by 6-7 senior forward Owen Nichols, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half of the regional final, and senior guard Brennen Blevins.

—Jarrod Ulrey

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