By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Moeller was in an uncharacteristic position late in the third quarter of Saturday’s Division I state championship game of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Basketball State Tournament in Columbus. The undefeated Crusaders, who had won 27 of their previous 29 games this season by double digits, trailed Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, 27-22, in the third quarter – normally a time Moeller had grown accustomed to stretching a sizeable lead and putting the game away before the final eight minutes.
But, faced with second-half adversity on this night, Moeller seniors Miles McBride and Alec Pfriem weren’t about to let history and perfection slip away in their final high school game. The senior duo combined to score all nine points during a late run to give Moeller a 31-30 heading into the final eight minutes, and then teamed up for 11 more points in the fourth quarter – with Pfriem’s layup with 7:21 remaining giving the Crusaders the lead for good at 33-32 – and enable Moeller to go on and defeat St. Vincent-St. Mary, 52-44, before a crowd of 8,675 at the Jerome C. Schottenstein Center on The Ohio State University campus.
The victory earned Moeller its second straight DI state championship and fifth basketball title overall (also winning in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2018). In the process, Moeller became the first DI state champion to record an undefeated season since Zanesville went 26-0 in 1995. The Crusaders are the first Greater Cincinnati school to go unbeaten and win the big-school state crown since Hamilton Taft finished 27-0 and captured the Class AA state title in 1962; Moeller is the first Southwest District team to accomplish that same feat since Dayton Chaminade-Julienne, a member of the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed Division today, won the Class AA state crown going 27-0 back in 1970.
And, Moeller is the first Cincinnati team to win back-to-back big-school state titles since GCL South Division colleague Elder won the 1973 and 1974 Class AAA state titles.
The victory also caps an amazing three-year run for this talented group of seniors – which posted an 84-4 record during that time and missed winning a third state title by one point, with the Crusaders’ last loss to an Ohio team coming on March 25, 2017, in the state final as Moeller suffered its only loss that season to Massillon Jackson, 39-38, to finish 28-1. Moeller rebounded last season to go 27-3, winning its eight postseason game by an average of 20 points, including an 83-65 win against Solon in the state title game. Moeller’s average margin of victory this season was 25.4 points.
The Crusaders, too, have now won 49 consecutive games dating back to December 27, 2017. The last team to defeat Moeller was Imhotep Charter from Philadelphia, which recorded a 47-43 win against the Crusaders as part of the prestigious Beach Ball Classic over the holidays that year in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
McBride, a West Virginia University commit, certainly is leaving a legacy at Moeller. Named first team DI All-Ohio last week after earlier being selected both the GCL South Player and Defensive Player of the Year by league coaches, Moeller’s record is 57-1 with McBride on the court. He played only two games last season, victories in the state semifinals and final, after missing almost the entire season while recovering from a foot injury he suffered while playing quarterback that fall for the Crusaders’ football team. He finished with 16, points, six rebounds and three assists in Saturday’s final.
Pfriem, named third team All-Ohio and first team All-GCL South, is a perfect 2-for-2 in state final appearances at Moeller and made his fourth consecutive trip to the state title game, having gone there with Roger Bacon the previous two seasons before transferring to Moeller. Pfriem, the GCL South leading scorer this season, led Moeller with a team-high 19 points to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. Senior Michael Shipp added nine points – including two three-point goals – in his final prep game, while sophomore Alex Williams had six off the bench.
Williams, who has provided instant offense and a spark for Moeller all season in his role, was coming off three straight double-figure performances. He led Moeller in the regional semifinals and final with 13 and 16 points in wins against Lakota East and Centerville, respectively, and then added 12 in Moeller’s 72-52 victory against Lakewood St. Edward in the state semifinals Friday night.
Give credit to SV-SM, Lebron James’ alma mater, for giving Moeller a stern test. The Fighting Irish, making their fourth straight appearance in the state final after having won the last two DII state crowns, lost to Moeller, 99-62, in early December on the road. Before the game even tipped off, SV-SM had to deal with its bus breaking down during the three-plus hour trek to Greater Cincinnati from Akron. It’s team then had to deal with Pfriem (22) and McBride (20), who combined to score 42 points in the Crusaders’ dominating victory that day.
This time, after Moeller had gone 15-of-19 from the field one day earlier to hold a 13-point halftime lead, the Crusaders trailed 11-8 after one quarter, managed only 17 points in the first half and were tied, 17-17, at the break. The Crusaders led St. Edward, 38-25, at halftime one day earlier. SV-SM, which was forced to move up to DI before this year because of the OHSAA’s competitive balance alignment, actually held the lead in the game four more minutes than Moeller, stayed right with the Crusaders until McBride and Pfriem got going in the final 10-plus minutes – finishing a combined 14-of-25 from the field in the game.
The Fighting Irish were led by sophomore guard Sean Wilson, who finished with 19 points including three three-pointers. The two schools are scheduled to meet next season in Akron on Saturday, December 7.