Boys Basketball: Westerville Central Warhawks to play for first state championship

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group

DAYTON – Despite playing without its best player for nearly eight minutes of the second half, the Westerville Central boys basketball team pulled away for a 51-42 win over Cleveland St. Ignatius in a Division I state semifinal March 20 to advance to its first state title game. 

The Warhawks improved to 23-2 and will play Centerville at 8:30 p.m. March 21 at the University of Dayton. 

“They believe in what our staff is trying to do and they go out and execute every single night,” Central coach Kevin Martin said. “I couldn’t be prouder for our kids, for our school and for our community. It’s been a heck of a tournament run. 

“These kids have had goals and we have one more night that we have to go out and compete, and it’s the last game in high school basketball in Ohio this year and we’re playing in it. We’re excited.” 

Centerville (25-3) beat Mentor (25-1) 63-49 in the other semifinal March 20. The Elks also will be playing in the state final for the first time. 

Central played without senior guard Tasos Cook for part of the second half as he battled cramps in both legs. He scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first half. 

Cook reached a milestone early in the second half when he scored off an offensive rebound for his 1,000th career point. 

“It's a great thing – it’s definitely a great personal achievement for me – but of course my goals going into this season were all team goals,” said Cook, who enters the title game with 1,002 points. “We’re a whole, unselfish team. We just wanted to get to this point where we’re going to be at (March 21) and hopefully get this state championship.” 

Quincy Clark had 12 points and M.J. Davis added 10 for the Warhawks. 

Westerville Central's Tasos Cook challenges Cleveland St. Ignatius' Henry Raynor (10) and Alex Garcia (23) on his way to the basket a Division I state semifinal March 20 at the University of Dayton.

Cook first left the game with 4 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He returned with 2:48 left in the third, but would leave three other times and miss the final 1:30 of the game. 

With Cook seeing limited time in the second half, Central opened its largest lead at 45-29 with 2:41 to play on Landon Tillman’s two free throws. 

With the game tied at 25 early in the third quarter, Davis hit the first of two consecutive 3-pointers to help the Warhawks take the lead for good. 

Martin said a strong defensive effort, which included limiting St. Ignatius to 22 points in the second half, was key.

“I’m proud of our whole group,” he said. “It’s not easy to win any time throughout the season, but once you get into the tournament, it’s really hard. You need good players, you need preparation. You need to be able to score the basketball, which we can do, but the biggest thing you need is you need to be able to defend at a high level and we’ve done that all year long.” 

Martin is familiar with the state tournament setting, as he helped Westerville North win a championship as a 6-foot-5 power forward in 1994. 

Jon Effertz led St. Ignatius (19-7) with 11 points.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank