Boys Basketball: Rally falls short for Worthington Christian Warriors in Division III state final
DAYTON – Following a rough opening quarter that forced it to play from behind throughout the Division III state championship game, the Worthington Christian boys basketball team switched to a full-court pressure defense late to claw back into it.
The Warriors cut what had been a 12-point deficit to two during the game’s final minute before Cleveland Heights Lutheran East hit four of six free throws to hang on for a 61-56 victory March 21 at the University of Dayton.
The loss gave Worthington Christian a final record of 28-2 and its third state runner-up trophy, with the others coming in 1994 and 2008. The Warriors won their only state title in 1999.
Lutheran East, which played only 12 regular-season games and finished 16-3, earned its third state title.
“Obviously it’s the highs and lows of sports,” Warriors coach Kevin Weakley said. “Today we didn’t have it in the beginning of the game and struggled a little bit with their pressure and their double-teaming on (junior guard) D.J. (Moore), so we were fighting the rest of the game, but it’s a resilient group of young men. There wasn’t ever a time we felt we were out of the game. After the first quarter we responded and started to get really aggressive ourselves, but their interior play really bothered us.”
Worthington Christian missed its first 11 shots but got a 3-pointer from Moore just before the first-period buzzer to cut its deficit to 10-5.
Lutheran East got seven points in the second quarter from Sirr Hughes and led 23-15 at halftime.
In the third period, Moore hit a 3-pointer and Tyler Kindberg followed with two free throws as the Warriors rallied to within 28-26, but Lutheran East answered with an 8-0 run that included a 3-pointer from 6-foot-8 senior forward Jalin Billingsley.
Worthington Christian fell behind 49-37 with 4:46 to go on a basket by Billingsley, but Kobe Buford answered with a 3-pointer to set up a 9-2 run.
A 3-pointer from Kindberg sliced the deficit to 53-49 with 1:53 left, and Tommy Anthony scored his only basket of the game following a steal with 55.7 seconds remaining as Worthington Christian cut it to 57-55.
A pair of free throws by Jared Lary with 11 seconds to play sealed the win for Lutheran East.
“They were pressuring us a little bit and it was working,” Falcons coach Sam Liggins said. “Not having a timeout (left during the final minute) could have changed the game, but these guys are resilient.”
Moore finished with 28 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Kindberg had 13 points, and Sam Johnson and Isaiah Hazelwood had six rebounds apiece.
Lutheran East outrebounded the Warriors 35-23, with Billingsley grabbing 12 to go along with 24 points.
“I don’t think we played against a team with that much size and we did have a hard time guarding them,” Kindberg said. “We gave up a couple too many offensive rebounds. I knew they were going to pressure us, but it was a lot more physical than I thought.”