Rogers, Over and Out
By Tim Rogers
Garfield Heights D-III district features four of the state’s Top 10 teams in 14-team field…
It has happened before, I’m sure of that.
Coaches are always looking for a little sympathy, especially this time of year.
It’s always understandable.
How many times have we heard – or perhaps it would be better to ask not heard? – a coach say, “This has to be the toughest, most competitive, unfair, kill me and take my whistle sectional-district tournament in the state.”
Crammed into the 14-team, one-and-done go-round include Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Beachwood, Gilmour Academy and Warrensville Heights. All are included in the top 10 of the recent Ohio National Guard JJ Huddle and Associated Press polls. That is four teams considered by two sources to be amongst the best in the state.
It has to be the most treacherous trip on the Road to Columbus. It is full of more trip-ending pot holes found in the streets of Cleveland, Akron and Canton combined. Being eliminated from the Garfield Heights sectional-district should be viewed as an honor, sort of like getting kicked out of Spago.
I have a feeling teams will be asked to check their credentials at the door, but here is a look at everyone’s resume.
VASJ: The Vikings are the reigning Division IV state champions and were regarded in many pre-season circles as the best team in the state regardless of division. While that hasn’t panned out – mostly because of a schedule that would challenge Oklahoma City – the five-time state champ Vikings were seeded first. They began the week with a 13-7 record and at least one uncharacteristic loss. But there are more impressive wins – Mentor, Cleveland Central Catholic, St. Ignatius – and other respectable showings in national events. A telling sign of respect came at the pairings meeting when the other three seeded teams went in the half-bracket opposite the Vikes. Avoidance might be the truest form of flattery. Ranked first by the ONG/JJ Huddle and second by the AP, the Vikes remain a bondafide contender for a sixth state title in my book, as long as Carlton Bragg, Brian Parker, Dererk Pardon and Simon Texidor are around.
BEACHWOOD: A regional runnerup last year, the Bison continue to flourish under new coach Matt Miller. With dynamic guard John Davis III leading the way they have played themselves into the top spot in the latest AP poll. I am more inclined to believe their fourth-place ranking in the ONG/JJHuddle poll is more accurate, but that remains to be seen. Their 19-2 record includes noteworthy victories over Brush, Warren Harding and last year’s state semifinalist, Leavittsburg LaBrae. You can tell as much from a team’s losses as much as from its wins and Beachwood’s two losses are to Central Catholic and Lakewood St. Edward, which has been ranked first in the Division I state poll most of the season. Nothing to be ashamed of there. The way the bracket should play out the Bison will meet either Warrensville Heights or Gilmour in the district semifinals. I just have to wonder if there is enough firepower in this lineup to get any deeper.
GILMOUR: How do you label a team that scored 57 points in a loss to heavyweight St. Edward and 74 in a win over Walsh Jesuit (both Division I) but could only produce 33 against Division II middleweight Archbishop Hoban? How about darkhorse? I love what coach David Pfundstein has done during his tenure at Gilmour, where his teams regularly win 14-15 games. Dave Zucker, A.J. Wright and Ishmael Hargrove, a transfer when St. Peter Chanel closed, make the Lancers formidable. However, after disposing of St. Martin dePorres in its opener the tournament path takes on the appearance of a high-mountain road in Chile, minus the goats. In order to make it to the regionals the ninth-ranked (AP) and seventh-ranked (ONG/JJ) Lancers will have to beat Warrensville Heights, Beachwood, perhaps fifth-seeded Columbia and VASJ in the span of 10 days. That’s a tall order for anyone.
WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS: Feeling his team should have been seeded second, coach Brian Swift made it apparent he was unhappy with the fourth-seed with an inappropriate and unnecessary tweet. So be it. Being a regional finalist in Division II last year was not enough to override a 12-7 record this year, despite quality wins over Division I Cleveland Heights and East Tech and a showing in which it took nationally-ranked LaLumiere (Ind.) to the wire before losing by three. The Tigers are another team whose schedule must be taken into consideration. There have been other narrow losses – two to Dublin Coffman, four to Medina and three to SVSM – that lend credence to Swift’s argument. With that said, Charles Franklin and Company will get an opportunity to disprove the disbelievers and validate their passionate coach.
So, there you have it. Like most sports writers, I love to give advice. I mean, we all think we have all the answers. But, the only advice I can give anyone playing at Garfield Heights is to travel at your own risk.