CHILLICOTHE – Over the past two years, every drill of every practice and every
possession of every game has in a way been approached by the
Chillicothe Cavaliers with this upcoming weekend in mind. This Thursday
– and hopefully Saturday – marks the Cavs final stop on what they hope
will be a Division II boys basketball state title run.
Coach Gary Kellough is in his third season at Chillicothe. Two years ago – the Cavs final season in the OCC before moving to the SEOAL – then sophomore star guard Anthony Hitchens arrived at Chillicothe in Kellough’s first season. Last year the final piece of the puzzle in 6-7 center Ray Chambers came to Chillicothe and the expectations of a trip to the Schottenstein Center started.
Hitchens has been outstanding during the tournament trail. The Akron-bound star averaged 27.5 points in the two regional wins, and Chambers has been equally impressive battling through foul trouble in a few games to still average a double-double throughout the postseason.
The dream seemed likely last year during the junior campaign of Hitchens and Chambers; however, a tough loss in the elite eight to DeSales left Chillicothe one step from the dance. The Cavaliers did lose senior Chris Givens off of that team – Givens, an incredible athlete, went on to enjoy a fine freshman season as a wide receiver at Miami (Ohio) – but all the other pieces were coming back and ready for a state title run.
That run started with a bump in the road with an overtime loss to open the season against Columbus Brookhaven. However, the Cavs would respond by winning every game – including victories over North College Hill, Zanesville, Newark and Dayton Dunbar – before falling again in the season finale against Zanesville.
Entering the tournament, it was the opinion of most that Chillicothe would be challenged very little along the way – shy of the elite eight. That thought seemed to hold true when the Cavs blew out Hillsboro and Marietta in the first two rounds, but when the Cavs met Logan Elm for the district title that is when Chillicothe got what many fans are calling their wakeup call.
Logan Elm led for much of the night before the Cavs found a way to battle back and escape with a one-point victory. When Chillicothe entered last week’s regional tournament the sleeping giant had awakened in impressive fashion.
The Cavs connected on 17 of thier first 23 shots in a blowout win over Vinton County, and then cruised in the championship with another blowout of Byesville Meadowbrook.
A huge part of this Cavalier team is the role players. Any team with a talented inside-out combo like Hitchens and Chambers is going to be dangerous, but the athleticism and talent of the supporting cast takes this team to an elite level.
Perimeter guys like junior Caleb Knights and senior Stu Beverly team with Hitchens to makeup the Chillicothe backcourt. Knights is a 6-2 lockdown defender and very efficient offensive player who has taken on the role of Mr. Intangibles for this Chillicothe team. Beverly is a solid perimeter shooter who often gets looks when teams “pick their poison” when trying to handle Hitchens and Chambers. When Beverly and Knights are hitting the perimeter shot as they did in the regionals, Chillicothe is nearly unguardable.
Inside, Seth Dawes and Ron Smith complement Chambers. Dawes is an athletic 6-4 forward who can score both inside and out. As a junior, Dawes would be option one in many high school offenses. Smith, also 6-4, is extremely athletic and difficult to keep off the offensive glass. The Cavalier forward has given solid minutes off the bench all season, but has really stepped it up in recent tournament games at the Convo.
The Cavs, the second-ranked team in D-II, now head to Columbus here they meet top-ranked Poland Seminary. It is always an amazing, dream come true scenario for high school teams to reach this stage, but with this Chillicothe team, the dream was never about just getting to this stage – their dream ends with a ladder and scissors.