What does it mean to be the newcomer to the party? For most people, it takes time to acclimate to their surroundings before they start feeling comfortable. In basketball, it’s no different, especially when it comes to being a first-time participant at the OHSAA Boy’s Basketball State Tournament. This year there are six.
Ohio HS Boys BKB State Finals: Newcomers
What does it mean to be the newcomer to the party? For most people, it takes time to acclimate to their surroundings before they start feeling comfortable. In basketball, it’s no different, especially when it comes to being a first-time participant at the OHSAA Boy’s Basketball State Tournament.
This year, there will be six newbies consisting of Cincinnati Walnut Hills, Columbus Bishop Watterson, Vincent Warren, Leavittsburg LaBrae, Fairfield Christian and Troy Christian.
So, just how hard is it to a win a state championship in your first trip to the state tournament? Try these numbers out for size. Only 68 teams since 1923 have won a state title in their first appearance. In the past five years, only four teams have been able to accomplish the feat. Pickerington Central (2012), Cincinnati Taft (2011), Columbus Northland (2009) and Oak Hill (2009). So, in other words, four out of 20 (20 percent). In Division II, it hasn’t happened since 2005 when Upper Sandusky was able to turn the trick. Only four teams, in the past five seasons, have finished runner-up.
Needless to say, the above mentioned six squads are fighting an uphill battle. However, it has been one of the most unpredictable tournaments in recent memory, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see two or three of these first-timers leave with the gold hardware.
In Division I, Walnut Hills has a terrific chance. The Eagles have a 23-game winning streak and haven’t lost since a December 14th setback to star-studded Huntington Prep (WV), 61-54. Walnut Hills, other than being a rookie, has one other thing going against it. The Eagles also have a first-year head coach in Ricardo Hill. Not that Hill isn’t more than capable, but it’s just rare. Walnut Hills spent most of the year as the No. 1 team in the state in our National Guard JJHuddle Division I Power Poll.
Bishop Watterson is another team with an excellent chance of cutting down the nets. The Eagles have just one loss on the year, a 59-56 defeat to Columbus Brookhaven. Watterson avenged that loss in the district final. The Eagles will meet redhot Kettering Alter in the semis, who dispatched of Thurgood Marshall and Dunbar. The Columbus-based school will have to find a way to slow down senior Jaaron Simmons, who has been phenomenal in the tournament. Watterson is one of the most balanced team in the state.
Vincent Warren is another first-time entrant in Division II. The Warriors had never won a district until this year. Warren came back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Athens in overtime and then got a putback at the buzzer from Evan Yabs to knock off New Philadelphia after squandering a 17-point third quarter advantage. Senior Evan French has been outstanding all season. He scored 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime in the win over Athens followed up by a 21-point showing in the triumph of New Philadelphia. Though, on Thursday, Akron SVSM will be a whole new dilemma. The Irish have six state championships to their resume, and two of the last four.
Leavittsburg LaBrae is the only newcomer in Division III. The Vikings have been playing lights out basketball during their tournament run. LaBrae needed overtime to beat a very good Youngstown Ursuline team in the district championship, but handled Oberlin and a very good Beachwood team with relative ease in the regionals. LaBrae held Beachwood scoreless in the opening quarter and to just four points by halftime. For the game, the Vikings only allowed the Bison seven field goal makes in 50 attempts and zero three-point makes in 24 tries. Junior Peyton Aldridge has been unbelievable for the Vikings doing everything but washing the uniforms. He may even be doing that. Aldridge is one of the most versatile talents in the state, and the crowd in Columbus will be sure to love this kid.
In Division IV, Troy Christian arrived in Columbus by upsetting previously unbeaten Tri-Village and favored Delphos St. John’s in regional play. TC will have the tall task of slaying Cleveland VASJ, which won’t be easy. Troy Christian had never won a sectional until this year. The Eagles have won 18-straight contests led by senior Christian Salazar and sophomore guard Grant Zawadzki.
Fairfield Christian, the second of the two DIV first-timers, will try to knock off a very well-schooled Leipsic outfit. The Knights have a nice one-two combination in junior Steven Carpenter and senior Justin Potochnik. Carpenter scored 60 points in the two regional wins over Danville and South Webster.