By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
After Lakota East managed to shoot 58.3 percent (21-of-36) from the field and knock down 8-of-13 three-point goals in Moeller’s 61-53 win over the Greater Miami Conference champions during the regular season, the Crusaders turned up the defensive pressure a notch Wednesday night and held East to 21 percent shooting (9-of-31) and 22 points below its season scoring average that included a period of nine minutes where the Thunderhawks went without a field goal and scored two points in the second quarter to record a 47-33 victory in the Division I regional semifinals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Basketball State Tournament at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
Moeller (26-0), the defending Division I state champion and winner of 46 consecutive games dating back to December 2017, advances to meet Centerville (22-5) in the regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday at XU. Moeller beat Centerville, 54-33, back on January 5 on its Montgomery Road campus behind 15 points from sophomore Alex Williams and 12 from senior Alec Pfriem, but the Elks have not lost since – recording 18 straight wins, including a 67-63 win over Greater Western Ohio Conference rival Springfield (17-10) in the second regional semifinal last night.
The Moeller-Centerville winner will advance to the DI Final Four set for March 21-23 at the Jerome C. Schottenstein Center on The Ohio State University campus in Columbus. Moeller has now won 13 postseason games in a row, and 19 of its last 20 in the state tournament – the lone loss during that span was in the 2016-17 state final at Massillon Jackson, 39-38, the last time Moeller lost to an Ohio team.
Getting past East (20-6), which won the GMC title outright for the first time since 2011 and came into the game riding a seven-game winning streak and 10 victories in its last 11 games, was anything but easy. East, which also was sound against Moeller defensively and outrebounded the Crusaders, 24-21, that included 11 offensive boards with many of those coming after missed three-pointers, held a 7-6 lead nearing the end of the first quarter before Moeller’s Pfriem hit a shot at the buzzer to give Moeller an 8-7 advantage. The Crusaders would never trail again.
Using full-court pressure and tenacious perimeter defense, Moeller then surged in front behind a 9-2 run that included seven points from senior and West Virginia University recruit Miles McBride in the second quarter. McBride’s jump shot just before the buzzer sounded gave Moeller at 17-9 halftime lead. East managed to connect on just 2-of-15 field goals in the first half, scored only two points in the second quarter on a pair of free throws by senior and GMC leading scorer Bash Wieland. Moeller held Winton Woods to just two points each in the third and fourth quarters of its 57-15 victory in the district final last Saturday, meaning Moeller had allowed a total 13 points in its last four quarters.
East, which attempted lengthy possessions in its search for good shots and to keep the ball away from Moeller, was hurt by missed opportunities early and ultimately by falling behind and being forced to quicken the pace. The Thunderhawks, though, started to find some rhythm in the second half and did manage to cut the deficit to 38-31 with just over three minutes remaining before Moeller responded by closing the game on a 9-2 run to win by double digits for the 24th time in 26 games this season. Only East in the first meeting and Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (62-55) have come within single digits of the Crusaders.
Williams came off the bench to lead Moeller with 13 points, scoring seven of the final nine points in the third quarter to give his team a 31-21 lead. Senior Michael Shipp added nine points, while McBride scored eight and Pfriem chipped in seven. Moeller connected on 17-of-33 shots from the field, good for 51.5 percent, but the Crusaders had a rare off night from the free-throw line – converting just 10-of-15 attempts.
But it was defense that made the difference. Junior Max Land had the difficult task of guarding Wieland – who entered the game averaging 19.5 points. In the first meeting, Wieland scored a team-high 22 points, hitting 9-of-12 shots including 3-of-4 from three-point range, to help East hold a five-point lead at halftime. He finished with 11 points this time but did not sink his first field goal until the final three minutes of the third quarter, going 3-of-12 from the field. Wieland ends an outstanding career at East along with seven other Thunderhawk seniors. He plans to team with Pfriem at Bellarmine University near Louisville, Ky. this coming season.