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Loaded Division I field highlights state championship weekend

By DON HOHLER • Updated Mar 21, 2019 at 12:48 AM

COLUMBUS — The word is out. Those who closely follow high school basketball believe the four Division I I teams that make up the state tournament field on Friday are from top to bottom the strongest in many years.

Here is a look at those four and the other 12 teams that will play at Value City Arena on the campus of Ohio State this weekend, beginning with Div. III Thursday:

Division I

— Lakewood St. Edward (17-8): Ed’s has the worst record, but don’t be fooled. There is great balance among a starting five headed by 6-foot senior Demareus Terry (13.9 ppg). Three juniors, 6-5 Devontae Blanton (14.2 ppg), 6-3 Grant Huffman (14.0 ppg) and 6-2 Monoforie Foster (8.8 ppg) show that anyone on Eric Flannery’s team can score.

The other starter is the team’s leading rebounder, 6-5 senior Spencer Crane (5.1 reb).

St. Ed’s has won two state titles and been to the semifinals 11 times.

— Cincinnati Moeller (25-0): The only undefeated team of the 16, winning 25 in a row, the Crusaders won six of them in the meat-grinding Greater Catholic League, where they have either won or shared the title 16 of the last 19 years.

Moeller is the defending state champs after a runners-up finish in 2017. Since then it has strung together 47 in a row. The Crusaders go 6-8 (sophomore Logan Duncomb), 6-4 (junior Max Land) along with seniors, 6-4 (Alec Pfriem (14.3 ppg), 6-3 (Michael Shipp) and 6-2 (Miles McBride 14.1 ppg).

— Powell Olentangy Liberty (22-4): Greg Nossaman’s team is playing its best basketball of the season now that everyone is healthy. His go-to player is perhaps the most prolific scorer in the state. Senior Ben Roderick (6-6) carries a 28 points per game average. Surrounding him are players 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 and 5-10.

— Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (21-3): It’s a given the Irish will play anyone, anywhere.

Head coach Dru Joyce relies on depth. He starts 6-3 senior Lunden McDay (16 ppg), 6-5 sophomore Malaki Branharn (12 ppg), 6-3 sophomore Seth Wilson (13.5 ppg), 6-5 senior Ksyshawn Jones and 5-11 senior Chris Painter (10 ppg).

His bench strength of 6-5, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-1 add 20 points to the teams 70-point per game average.


Division II

— Thornville Sheridan (22-5): From the Muskingum Valley League, Sheridan won 20 games last year and didn’t make it.

This year, 22 wins did. Their leading scorer is 6-0 senior Ethan Heller (22.0). Senior Grant Heilman at 6-7 in the tallest. He averages 13 a game. The other starters are 6-5, 6-2 and 6-0.

Columbus South (27-1): The team that ended Norwalk’s season last week in the regional semifinals is a perennial Columbus City League power. The Bulldogs have won 19 league championships, but has had little luck when getting to the big show, going 1-3 — with their only win coming in 1965. The last time they were there was in 1986.

Coach Ramon Spears uses a balanced attack. His first six players are all capable of big numbers including the first player off the bench, 5-11 junior Trevell Adams. He starts two seniors and three juniors.

Akron Buchtel (20-7): The winners of the Akron City League with an 11-0 record, the question is whether or not a team headed by a freshman — that has not been to the big show since 1997 — can get it done. Chris Livingston (6-5) is averaging 23 points a game. His supporting cast include three sophomore and a 6-5 senior.

The bench strength is also made up mainly of underclassman, a freshman, two sophomores, and one senior. Buchtel knocked off perennial power Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph to reach the semifinals.

— Trotwood Madison (24-2): The Rams are the favorite to win it all. They went 14-0 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference and scores the ball like no other team in the field — many of those 90-plus point games coming off traps from full court pressure.

Senior Amari Davis (6-4) is averaging 30 points per game and has over 2,000 for his career. Junior Carl Blanton (6-3) is at 18.5 ppg, 6-3 senior Malachaia Matthews is at 13.1 while 6-2 junior Sam Anderson is at 11. The big man inside is 6-7 senior Justin Stephens. He averages eight points and eight rebounds while blocking three shots.


Division III

— Cincinnati Purcell-Marian (22-4): The favorite to take the title. Winning the tough Greater Catholic League while going 22-4 says something about the firepower in Scott Kerr’s team.

Four of his starters average in double figures, headed by the GCL Player of the Year AJ Garrett, a 6-6 senior (12.2 ppg). The District Player of the Year was 6-4 senior Alex Dobson (13.3 ppg). The rest of the all-senior lineup includes 6-6 Bryan Warah (10.8 ppg), 6-1 Javonte Lyons (11.8 ppg) and 6-6 Michael Little is the team’s best three-point shooter.

— Canel Winchester Harvest Prep (24-2): Their leading scorer is junior guard C J Anthony. He carries a 25-point average. The rest of the starting unit are right around 10 points per game. They do have decent size after Anthony. They are 6-5, 6-5, 6-4 and 6-2 with 6-3 and 6-3 off the bench.

— Cleveland Heights Lutheran East (17-8): Third-place team from the Lake Erie League at 8-4, underclassmen will have to continue to play well if they are to advance. Sophomore EJ Farmer leads the team on offense with 22 per game. Junior Nehemiah Benson averages 17 and a 6-7 sophomore averages 15.

Lutheran East won its only state title in 2015-16.

— Oregon Cardinal Stritch (24-3): A first-timer to the big show, but it comes in playing great basketball. The Cardinals are led by two 1,000-point scorers in 5-10 senior Jordan Burton and 6-2 junior Joey Holifield, both at 14.4 points per game. Seniors Nolan Finch (6-7) and Little Anderson (6-3) will have to help, as will sophomore Jahlden Anderson.


Division IV

— Berlin Hiland (25-1): The Hawks have been a regular at the state tournament. It has been to the semifinals 11 times, winning it the last time in 2012. Somehow Mark Schlabach and before him, Perry Reese, have been able to groom a high-caliber team almost every year.

This edition is not big, as the tallest player by far is 6-3 junior Sam Haberger. Their only double-digit scorer is 6-1 senior Kendall Hochstetler at 15.7 ppg. As is always the case, their are two Miller’s in the starting lineup, Kody and Andy, both 5-10. Also, a Schlabach comes off the bench.

— St. Henry (22-3): Another team from the mighty Midwest Athletic Conference is also back, shooting for its fifth state title, the last one coming in 2004. Eric Rosenbeck’s team won the MAC with an 8-1 record.

They are led by a pair of Niekamp’s, 6-6 Caden (13.1 ppg) and 6-1 Zach (11.0 ppg). The other starters are 6-3, 6-0 and 5-11 while the bench strength includes players 6-5 and 6-4.

Richmond Heights (21-6): Making its first-ever state appearance, Heights has size with a lineup of 6-5, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 and 6-2 out on the floor.

Gboahan Adid is their leading scorer at 16.8 and Curtis Houston is at 13 points per game. The next four are between 9-to-11 points per game.

— Convoy Crestview (24-1): Convoy returns to Columbus with another fine team. The last one that made it down was in 2014 and went 29-0.

Jeremy Best starts four seniors and a sophomore, the latter 6-8 Kalen Etzler (12.3 ppg). The seniors are 6-7 Javin Etzler (14.4 ppg), 6-3 Wade Sheels (9.3 ppg) and two 5-9 players.