By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
For the second time in three seasons, the Moeller basketball team will enter the Ohio High School Athletic Association Boys’ Basketball Tournament after completing a perfect regular season. The Crusaders left little doubt on Friday night, outscoring St. Xavier, 19-1, in the second quarter on its way to a 63-27 victory in its final game this season at the Brisben Family Education Center on the school’s Kenwood campus to clinch a perfect regular season. Two seasons ago, Moeller finished the regular season 22-0 and made it all the way to the state championship before suffering its only loss that season, 39-38, to Massillon Jackson.
The victory extended Moeller’s overall winning streak to 41 games, including eight in a row in last year’s postseason tournament to win the OHSAA Division I state title for the fourth time in school history. Moeller also has won 19 in a row in the Greater Catholic South Division, capturing the league championship outright for the third consecutive season, and 35 straight games at home dating back to the end of the 2014-15 season – a 42-41 loss to Centerville.
Elder also enters the postseason on a roll, having won four of its last five games after recording a 42-35 win over La Salle last night at the Pit in Price Hill. The win vaults Elder (11-10, 3-3 GCL South) into sole possession of second place in the GCL South. The Panthers had a trio score in double figures, led by 12 points from junior guard Willard Cluxton – who knocked down 8-of-8 free throws to help Elder continue its late-season momentum . Senior guard Aidan Byrne scored 11 points for the Panthers, and junior Luke Kandra came off the Panthers’ bench to also add 11 and convert 5-of-6 free throws.
All four GCL South teams will now prepare for the Cincinnati-area DI sectional tournaments. Moeller, despite being the overall No. 1 seed, will actually play first when the Crusaders oppose Middletown (8-14) at 6 p.m. Friday, February 22 at Fairfield High School. Elder opens the postseason by facing Edgewood (5-17) at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 23 at Lakota West High School. La Salle and St. Xavier are off until the following week, when both will face winners of first-round games.
La Salle will oppose the winner of Milford-Harrison at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 26 at West. St. Xavier also plays that same night, taking on the winner of Anderson-Princeton at 7:30 p.m. at Hamilton High School. The DI sectional tournaments begin Monday at OHSAA-chosen venues around the state, with Hamilton, Lakota West and Fairfield high schools hosting Cincinnati-area games beginning early next week.
Moeller (21-0, 6-0) can only hope to play as well in the postseason as it did during the regular season, winning all but two games by double digits and defeating a tough schedule by an average of 26.2 points per game. Moeller’s only single-digit victories were against Lakota East (61-53), which finished the regular season at 17-5 and 15-1 in the Greater Miami Conference to win their league title by two games, and Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (62-55), which spent time ranked as the state’s No. 1 team in DII, and finished 18-4 overall and 9-1 in the GCL Co-Ed Division North to win its division.
Against St. Xavier, Moeller benefited from its benchmarks – balanced scoring with three players scoring nine of more points – senior Miles McBride and junior Max Land each finishing with 11, and senior Alec Pfriem adding nine to go along with four rebounds and four assists. McBride added five rebounds and four assists, and the Crusaders shot above 50 percent from the field – knocking down 25-of-44 shots for 56.8 percent. Moeller also had the rebounding edge, 30-23, and its defense held St. Xavier to just 23.8 shooting (10-of-42), including 4-of-22 from three-point range.
Junior guard Avery Wilson came off the St. Xavier bench to lead the Bombers with nine points, hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers. No other starter scored more than five for St. Xavier (10-12, 1-5), which lost for the fourth time in five games.
Elder-La Salle was close throughout, with the Panthers holding a 17-14 lead at halftime and still maintaining a three-point lead, 26-23, after three quarters. The Panthers wound up scoring more than one-third of their points from the free-throw line, hitting 16-of-25 in the game, with Cluxton and Kanda combining to make 13-of-14. Senior Nathan Vogelpohl scored 10 points to lead La Salle (12-10, 2-4), but was held scoreless in the final quarter.