By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Evidenced by the high volume of upsets in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it is difficult to advance in the postseason no matter how impressive your basketball team was during the regular season. But, if Moeller can defeat Lorain in the first Division I semifinal in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Basketball Tournament, the Crusaders will do something that is extremely rare in the big-school division – earn consecutive trips to the state championship game. Moeller plays Lorain at 5:15 p.m. Friday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on The Ohio State University campus in Columbus.
Solon (28-1), the state’s top-ranked team, meets Pickerington Central (18-8) in the second semifinal at 8:30 that night, with the winners to play for the state title at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. No. 2 Moeller (25-3) is seeking its fourth state championship, also having won the crown in 1999, 2003 and 2007 under veteran coach Carl Kremer. The Crusaders have put together a 53-4 record over the last two seasons. Pickerington Central is seeking a basketball double, having won the DI girls’ state title last week. The Tigers also won the state football title in the fall.
A year ago, Moeller took a perfect record into the state final before suffering its only loss of the season to Massillon Jackson, 39-38. And, while the Crusaders lost three games in December this season, they have yet to taste defeat in the calendar year – putting together an 18-game winning streak that includes a second straight unbeaten season in the Greater Catholic League South Division and six wins in the postseason by an average of 24.5 points per game. The Crusaders beat Springfield and Huber Heights Wayne by a combined 33 points in the regional to advance to the DI Final Four.
Moeller is undefeated against Ohio schools this season.
Advancing, however, won’t be easy against Lorain – which is riding a nine-game winning streak that includes taking down two of the state’s elite teams in its regional tournament. First, the Titans got past Lakewood St. Edward, 72-69, in the regional semifinals to earn a shot with Toledo St. John’s Jesuit in the final. Lorain posted another three-point win, 47-44, to earn a trip to Columbus and a matchup with Moeller. Junior guard Devon Grant was one of just three players to score in the final for Lorain (22-5), finishing with a game-high 29 points to lead the Titans to the Final Four for the first time in boys’ basketball.
Grant scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half, when neither team led by more than three points. Grant finished with nine rebounds, and sophomore guard Jordan Jackson added 14 points. The city of Lorain last sent a team to the state tournament in 1988, when Admiral King – one of three high schools at the time – made its way to Columbus. After closings and mergers through the years, Lorain is now the only high school in the city. The Titans have been solid in recent years, advancing to the Toledo regional three of the last four years.
Moeller, though, should be ready for the latest team in its way – thanks to a lineup that includes seniors Jaxson Hayes, a University of Texas signee, and Jeremiah Davenport, who has signed with Wright State University. Both of their future college programs participated in the NCAA Tournament. Davenport and Hayes, who combine to average 27.7 points and 13 rebounds while shooting better than 60 percent from the field, have plenty of support from seniors Isaiah Payton and Carlos Garcia, along with junior Alex Pfriem. At times this season, each member of the Crusaders’ starting five has stepped up in big games.
Davenport was named GCL South Co-Player of the Year along with senior forward Riley Haubner of La Salle, while Hayes was named the GCL South Defensive Player of Year. He averages 4.2 blocks per game. Payton and Pfriem were named first team All-GCL South, while Garcia was named to the second team in a vote by league coaches. Moeller is vying to become the first GCL South team to win a state championship in basketball since the 2010-11 season, when La Salle won the DI crown by defeating Columbus Northland, 59-40, in the state title game. Two games earlier, the Lancers beat Moeller, 46-35, in the regional final.