By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Moeller basketball coach Carl Kremer thought this year’s team would be good, but even the veteran Crusaders’ leader said he never could have envisioned this year’s team being as goodas it has been all season. And, after shooting 78.9 percent from the field (15-of-19) in the first half against a talented and state tournament savvy Lakewood St. Edward in a convincing 72-52 victory early Friday evening in the Division I state semifinals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Basketball State Tournament at the Jerome c. Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the Crusaders are one win away from the school’s first perfect season and a successful defense of the state championship.
Senior Alec Pfriem recorded his first career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, senior Miles McBride added 13 points, sophomore Alex Williams came off the bench to score 12, and junior Max Land chipped in 11 points and five rebounds to help Moeller cruise past the 11-time state semifinalist making its fifth appearance in the DI Final Four in the last eight seasons. Moeller, which has won 26 of its 28 games by double figures this season, last suffered a defeat to an Ohio team in the 2016-17 final, 39-38, to Massillon Jackson, a loss that prevented Moeller from perfection that season. The Crusaders won the title last year with a 83-65 win against Solon.
Moeller (28-0) will attempt to win its fifth basketball state title (also having won in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2018) when it meets Akron St. Vince-St. Mary (24-3) in the state final at 8:30 tonight at OSU. The Crusaders defeated St. Vincent-St. Mary, 99-62, at Moeller way back on December 9, but this is not the same team that faced Moeller on that late Saturday afternoon after having its bus break down on the way to Greeter Cincinnati. Pfriem scored 22 points, while McBride added 20 in the victory.
The Crusaders are attempting to become the first Greater Cincinnati big-school team to finish undefeated since Hamilton Taft went 27-0 and won the Class AA state title in 1962. Dayton Chaminade-Julienne, a Greater Catholic League Co-Ed Division member, is the last team from Southwest Ohio to end a season without a loss – going 27-0 at the Class AA level to win the 1970 state crown. Zanesville is the last team in the state to finish unblemished, capturing the DI state crown in 1995 with a 26-0 record. Moeller, which wound up 28-1 in 2016-17, is a combined 83-4 the last three seasons.
St. Vincent-St. Mary, the alma mater of NBA star Lebron James, beat Olentangy Liberty, 58-49, in Friday’s second semifinal. The Fighting Irish have not lost since February 2, a 75-72 setback to Kennedy Catholic from Heritage, Pa. GCL Co-Ed member Roger Bacon staged one of the most memorable victories in an Ohio state final back in 2002, when the Spartans beat the James-led SV-SM in the DII state final, 71-63, before a then state-tournament record crowd of 18,375 at The Ohio State University. The Fighting Irish had been 75-0 against Ohio teams before that game, in which a junior James scored a game-high 32 points.
In St. Edward (19-8), the DI state football champion and one of the hottest teams in the state tournament having won seven straight and eight of its last nine, Moeller did what has been a trademark all season – getting off to an insurmountable fast start. McBride, the West Virginia University signee who was named first team All-Ohio earlier in the week, scored nine of his points in the first quarter (finishing a perfect 5-of-5 from the field) as Moeller hit 7-of-8 field goals in the quarter before going 8-of-11 in the second eight minutes to take a 38-25 lead at intermission. An 8-0 run that sparked a 17-6 stretch over the two quarters that put Moeller in front for good.
The Crusaders finished by connecting on 26-of-39 shots (66.7percent) for the game, including 5-of-11 from three-point range and 15-of-19 in free throws. Pfriem, the GCL South Division leading scorer averaging 15 points and a third team All-Ohio selection heading to Bellarmine University, also added five assists. Williams, who scored 13 points in the Crusaders’ 47-33 win against Lakota East in the regional semifinals and then poured in 16 in a 59-41 victory over Centerville in the regional final, both team highs, made the most of his 19 minutes – finishing with a dozen.
Moeller, which outscored St. Edward, 21-0, in bench points and had nearly half of its points, 34, in the paint, will now attempt to become the first Cincinnati big-school team to win back-to-back state titles since GCL South colleague Elder did it in 1973 and 1974, when earning consecutive Class AAA state crowns. No Cincinnati-area team has won two straight at the DI level. Juniors Devontae Blanton and Grant Huffman led St. Edward with 15 points each, while senior Demetrius Terry and Montorie Foster each add 12.