It’s Championship Week in Ohio high school basketball, and the Cleveland area is well represented with teams. A Cleveland area team has a chance to win each of the four Divisions of play. Some may have better chances than others, and some may see a familiar face this this weekend. Here are the Cleveland area teams looking for that state championship:
Division I…..Garfield Heights
The Bulldogs make a return trip to Columbus, where they fell in the semi-finals last year. Garfield is here by the skin of their teeth, surviving an upset bid by St. Ignatius in the regional final. guard Shawn Christian hit a three pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, and the Bulldogs finally overcame the Wildcats in the second overtime. The Bulldogs bring a plethora of talent, led by Missouri recruit Willie Jackson, and Louisville recruit Frankie Hughes. In their semi-final Friday night at 8:30, they will see a familiar foe in Westerville South. It’s the same Westerville South team that eliminated the Bulldogs in the state semi-final last season. South has been an extremely hot team this post season, knocking off two top ten teams in their regional in Pickerington Central and Gahanna Lincoln. They are led by 6’10” center and Ohio State recruit Kaleb Wesson (you may know his father Keith played for the Buckeyes in the early 80’s). Younger brother Andre chipped in with 13 points in their win over Gahanna Lincoln, and super quick guard Jordan Humphrey led the way with 21 points. Garfield Heights has a huge challenge in front of them, but this group is hungry, and somehow always finds a way to win. Should be an incredible semi-final. The winner of this game will play the winner of the game between Lima Senior and Wilmington.
Division II…..Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Bay Village
One team was supposed to be here, and the other has come out of nowhere. Let’s start with the Fighting Irish of SVSM. Coach Dru Joyce has another great team, as they beat Division I qualifier Garfield Heights handily during the regular season. They also own a win over Division I regional qualifier Canton McKinley. The Irish have hardly been challenged this post season, as their smallest margin of victory has been 13 points, in a regional final win over Benedictine. Butler recruit Henry Baddley leads the charge, but watch out for junior Jayvon Graves and swingman John Williams. The Irish pressure, pressure, and pressure some more on the defensive end. They will take on Cincinnati Aiken Thursday at 5:15 p.m. Aiken got to this point by defeating rival Cincinnati Taft in the regional final, and takes a 24-3 record into Columbus. It will be their first ever appearance in the state tournament. Division II Cincinnati district player of the year Carlik Jones scored 22 points in their regional semi-final game against Kettering Alter and will be a handful for the SVSM guards. The winner of this game will play the winner of the game between Bay Village and New Concord John Glenn.
Speaking of Bay Village, what a story the Rockets have been. They will be making their first ever state tournament appearance. They have come out of nowhere to became a dangerous and elite Division II team. Bay loves to get and run and score in bunches. It is truly a team effort as Bay had five players in double figures in their regional final win, and six in double figures in their regional semi-final win. Senior John Koz is their leading scorer, and also the school’s all-time leading scorer. They receive major contributions from R.J. Sunahara, Scott Dunham, Jack Jalen, and freshman sharpshooter Erik Painter. They will need a team effort and then some against the state’s top ranked Division II team in John Glenn. The Little Muskies start a five guard lineup and can score at will, with five games over 100 points. John Glenn also owns a regular season win over SVSM. They are led by Ohio Mr. Basketball candidate Drew Rackley. He isn’t the whole show. They have three other players that average over 14 points a game. Pace won’t be an issue in this game, and it could be the most entertaining of the weekend. Expect a game in the 80’s.
Division III…..Villa Angela-St. Joseph (VASJ)
Defending state champions VASJ make a return trip to Columbus when many thought would never happen. The Vikings lost all five starters from last year’s team, including All-Ohio players Carlton Bragg (Kansas) and Derek pardon (Northwestern). Leave it to coach Babe Kwasniak to get the Vikings back to Columbus. This team is a bit different, as they like the three pointer. Sherman Dean has been red hot in the post season, and inside player Jacob Stauffer has been very good on the boards. Sophomore point guard Jerry Higgins has matured into his role. The real player to watch is 6’7″ freshman Alonzo Gaffney. He is the #1 ranked freshman in the state, and has been more and dominant as the year as progressed. It will be important that the Vikings not look past there semi-final game and onto a finals game with nemesis Lima Central Catholic, who beat the Vikings two years ago in the state final. The Mustangs of Lynchburg-Clay stand in their way. They take a record of 25-2 into the game. The school located about 45 minutes east of Cincinnati will be making their first state final four appearance since 1993. Sophomore Eric McLaughlin led the way in their regional final win with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Zach Blakenship chipped in with a double-double himself with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The winner of this game will play the winner of the game between Lima Central Catholic and Cincinnati Roger Bacon.
Division IV…..Willougby Cornerstone Christian
The smallest Division in Ohio sports a team from Northeast Ohio gunning for a state championship. Willoughby Cornerstone Christian will try and win their first ever state championship in their first ever appearance, in just their 14th year of existence. The Patriots have been pretty dominant on their way to Columbus. Don’t let the 15-12 record fool you. Their schedule is loaded with Division I and II teams, and played VASJ to the limit in a regular season loss. The star of the show is 6’2″ sophomore Michael Bothwell, the Division IV Co-Player of the Year. He poured in 41 points in their regional final game, a 83-63 win over highly thought of Lutheran East. They will be taking on Wellington School out of Columbus, who raised eyebrows in their regional final win over tournament co-favorite Columbus Africentric. Point guard Cam Edmonson led the Jaguars with 16 points and 6 assists, and Dustin Harder added 13 points and 10 rebounds. They will take a 24-3 record into Columbus, and they are also making their first state tournament appearance. The winner of this game will take on the winner of the game between top ranked Van Wert Linconview and Jackson Center.
Can Cleveland area teams take home a title in all four divisions? Probably not, but it should be a fantastic weekend in Columbus