By Jeff Louderback
Remembering their district finals loss to the same school two years ago, and inspired with extra incentive after the girls team lost in the regional finals a few hours before, the Centerville Elks jumped to a first quarter lead and held off Mason for a 49-43 victory and a district championship Saturday at UD Arena.
“It’s a big deal to win a district title and advance to regionals. It means we are one of 16 Division I team still playing,” said Centerville head coach Brook Cupps. “It’s hard to get this far. When you have a program with a lot of talent and you lose in districts, you think, ‘We’ll get there next year,’ but you just never know. Especially at this level of the tournament, any team can beat you.”
The Elks fell in the district finals to Mason, 44-38, in 2017. This time, they were lifted by clutch shooting from their cast of seniors, and intimidating defensive play from 6-9 center Mo Njie.
As he has all season, Ryan Marchal fueled his teammates with accurate three-point shooting, playmaking drives, timely assists, and hustling defense. The senior point guard collected a game-high 22 points (going 6-for-10 from the field), hit two three-pointers, converted 8 or 10 free throws, added two steals and dished off two assists, including an impressive alley-oop to fellow senior Kaleb Mitchell, who grabbed the pass and completed an athletic dunk.
“Talented point guards figure out what their team needs and then responds, and that is what Ryan does,” Cupps said about Marchal. “He was good, especially with scoring, which is what we needed in a game that saw tough defense from both teams.”
Centerville raced to a 20-13 advantage after one quarter, but Mason trimmed the deficit to 27-23 at halftime and cut it to 33-31 entering the fourth quarter. Every time the Comets had a chance to tie the game, or take a lead, the Elks responded with key defensive plays and baskets.
Njie scored just four points on two turnaround jumpers in the paint, but he grabbed eight rebounds and swatted away four Mason shots. With his interior presence, Njie also forced the Comets into several errant passes and turnovers.
Centerville’s record was 4-5 after a 54-33 loss at Cincinnati Moeller on Jan. 5. It has not lost since and carries a 17-game win streak to Xavier University’s Cintas Center for a regional semifinals clash with fellow GWOC East member Springfield. The Panthers routed Cincinnati Elder, 55-35, in the nightcap at UD Arena with smothering full-court pressure. Springfield held a 14-0 lead after one quarter.
The winner of Centerville-Springfield will face the winner of Moeller and Lakota East. The Thunderhawks ended Fairmont’s post-season run, beating the Firebirds, 50-36, in another district championship matchup Saturday.
Both regional semifinal games represent rematches from regular season tilts.
Centerville and Springfield shared 10-2 records in the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East, and each school won on the other’s home court during the regular season. The Elks and Panthers clash again Wednesday night at 8 in a regional semifinal match-up at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. The Elks and Panthers finished with 10-2 records in the GWOC East, but Centerville won the division with a better overall record.
Moeller, which is the top ranked Division I team in Ohio and 31st in the nation (according to MaxPreps.com), takes a 25-0 record into the meeting with Lakota East. Moeller prevailed at Lakota East, 61-53 on Jan. 20. It was the Crusaders’ most competitive game, next to their 62-55 victory at Chaminade-Julienne in the regular season finale on Feb. 2.
Moeller and Lakota East open the regional semifinals games on Wednesday at the Cintas Center at 6 p.m. Centerville and Springfield are set to tip off at 8 p.m.