By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Moeller and Elder ended the regular season as the hottest teams in the Greater Catholic League South Division, and the two teams have done nothing to change that in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Basketball Tournament. Moeller, the No. 1 seed in the Dayton Sectional/District Tournaments, remained undefeated and advanced to the district championship with a 67-51 victory over Colerain Friday night at Fairfield High School, while Elder kept its postseason journey alive with a pair of overtime wins – first knocking off neighborhood rival Oak Hills, 43-41, Thursday and then earning a district final berth in its bracket with a 56-42 OT victory against Sycamore Saturday evening. Both Elder games were played at Hamilton High School.
Moeller (24-0), the defending Division I state champion and winner of 44 consecutive games dating back to December 2017, advances to meet Winton Woods in the Dayton 1 District Championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of Dayton Arena. Winton Woods (16-8) advanced with a 53-52 win against Turpin Saturday at Lakota West. The Warriors have won six straight games, including three in the postseason – defeating Lakota West and Fairfield before last Saturday’s district semifinal.
Elder (14-10), which has now won four straight and eight of its last nine, moves on to face Springfield (16-9) in the Dayton 4 District Championship at 9 p.m. at UD Arena Saturday. Springfield defeated Sidney, 65-60, Saturday at Vandalia Butler to advance. The Panthers are right back where they were at this time last season, when they also advanced to the district final before falling to the same team, Springfield, 51-45, in Dayton.
The victory against Colerain was one of the strangest games for the Crusaders, as Moeller roared out to score 28 and 24 points, respectively, in the first two quarter and take a 52-35 halftime advantage. The Crusaders, however, struggled offensively in the third quarter and were outscored, 16-6, by Colerain to narrow the margin to 58-51 entering the final eight minutes before Moeller again assumed command and posted double-digit victory No. 22 this season. It was a balanced effort for Moeller, with senior Miles McBride scoring a team-high 19 points and adding three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Senior Alec Pfriem added 16 points and five rebounds, while sophomore Logan Duncomb chipped in 15.
Moeller had a rare off-shooting night from the field, connecting on 22-of-47 shots for 46.8 percent. The Crusaders, though, did hold the rebounding edge against Colerain (10-15), 30-19, and also managed to sink 19-of-24 free throws for 79.2 percent. Colerain, which had won four games in a row, was led by a game-high 22 points from senior guard Rodney Wiley. Moeller played Winton Woods during the regular season, posting a 60-42 victory on the road on January 29 as Pfriem led four double-figure scorers with 16 points. Moeller also faced Springfield, Elder’s next opponent, in the regular season – posting a 74-42 win over the Wildcats on January 26 at the Brisben Family Education Center on Moeller’s campus.
Elder, which defeated Oak Hills, 45-31, on January 22 at The Pit in Price Hill, needed an extra period to get past the Highlanders this time – led by junior Willard Cluxton (13), senior Michael Bittner (10) and junior Luke Kandra (eight). Oak Hills (16-7), which finished second in the Greater Miami Conference behind Lakota East and just ahead of Mason (both of which advanced to district finals), entered the game riding a six-game winning streak.
Against Sycamore, both teams had opportunities to snap a 40-40 tie at the end of regulation but were unsuccessful forcing OT. Elder wasted little time to take control, scoring the first eight points of the extra period and ultimately outscored the Aviators, 16-2, to post the victory. Kandra had the big night for Elder, with team highs of 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. He also nailed 9-of-9 free throws. Also in double figures was senior Aidan Byrne, who had 10 points and made 3-of-4 two-point field goals. Bittner added six, including 4-of-4 on free throws.
Elder has been a much different team since the return of Bittner, who was named second team All-GCL South by league coaches despite missing the majority of the regular season while recovering from an injury he suffered during the state football playoffs. Bittner’s return – along with the consistent play of Cluxton, a first team all-league selection, and the recent emergence of Kanda – a 6-f00t-4 junior (who had season highs in points and rebounds against Sycamore) who has helped Elder play its best basketball in February and March. Elder also came alive late last year, opening the postseason with three straight wins – including a 60-58 win against Mason – to make the district final.
Moeller then beat Springfield, 65-44, in the regional semifinals.