COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the Division I and III district finals tipping off at the Columbus Convention Center, Division II and IV will play at Ohio Dominican on Saturday. Let's take a look at the three district final games across the divisions.
Ohio Dominican University - 4 p.m.
Outlook: The opening Division II district final pits two of the elite coaches in the area head to head. South coach Ramon Spears brings the Bulldogs into ODU with 24 wins and an insane three-year run that is looking to end in a trip to the state final four.
Meanwhile, Bishop Watterson comes in as an underdog, taking down City League North co-champ Beechcroft in the district semifinals and looking to take down the overall City League champion South in the finals. The Eagles may not have the overall depth and talent of the Bulldogs, however, coach Vince Lombardo is as good as they come at maximizing talent.
Appearing in its fifth-straight district final, South has been here before and is clearly battle tested heading into Saturday. Watterson on the other hand is appearing in its first district final since 2014 when the Eagles took down now defunct Brookhaven before falling to Norwalk in the state championship.
South is a guard heavy team that uses on its speed, elite team defense and crisp ball movement to punish opponents. Senior guard Tre Watkins has really excelled as of late and appears in his fourth district final in four years. Watkins has improved as a facilitator, helping get his teammates involved offensively which has led to increased production from juniors Taquan Simington, Trevell Adams, Marcus Johnson and Sam Barton.
A senior who has really improved is Alvin Byrd, a versatile 6-foot-3 wing that is playing with more confidence than ever before. Look for South to attack Watterson senior Zach Sawyer, who is the lifeblood of the Eagles and one of the most underrated players anywhere in the area.
Outside of Sawyer, senior forward Jimmy Patton was the key in the win over Beechcroft, coming alive in the fourth quarter to help Watterson pull away. Patton is a 6-foot-5 shot maker who is as experienced as any other player on the roster.
This game will depend solely on pace. Watterson was able to slow Beechcroft and keep the Cougars out of transition for most of the game. If that can happen once again on Saturday, the Eagles will have its best chance to win.
However, South is unlike your average City League team, as the Bulldogs can win in any type of play style. We look for South to pressure Watterson and force others outside of Sawyer to produce. The Bulldogs have an assortment of lengthy, athletic guards to throw at Sawyer to wear him down, which will likely play a major role in this matchup.
Watterson may not have a matchup for Marcus Johnson, who punished Bishop Hartley in the first game of the season. If Johnson can return to that form, South should have a great chance to advance to the Bowling Green regional tournament.
Ohio Dominican University - 6:30 p.m.
Outlook: For the first time since 2014, two Central Catholic League programs will square off in a district final. With this matchup, you get a grudge match between DeSales and Hartley who split in two intense regular season meetings.
While DeSales won the first at Hartley, the Hawks shocked the Stallions in the second round on the road, using a monster performance from Morgan Safford to storm back from a 14-point deficit to win in overtime. Safford hit the game-tying three in regulation and a game-winning three in overtime, putting Hartley on his back to ruin not only DeSales' senior night but their chances of winning an outright CCL title.
On Saturday at ODU, Safford will once again be the key, as the 6-foot-4 senior is the sole reason why Hartley is even here in the first place. Hitting the game-winning free throws to help the Hawks overcome No. 2 Jonathan Alder in a matchup where they led for 0.6 seconds of the entire game, Safford will look to continue his vengeance tour in the second-straight district title appearance for Hartley.
DeSales doesn't really have a matchup for Safford, who dominated in both meetings and will have his team ready on Saturday. A three-level scorer who plays with an insane motor, Safford is playing as well as any player in the entire area regardless of division. However, Hartley will need a little more from the rest of its rotation in order to take down a DeSales team that has the potential to score in bunches.
In its last meeting against the Stallions, Hartley got a great game from junior Kylan Kortokrax, who came off the bench and knocked in crucial threes in a fourth quarter run that decided the game. Look for another big game out of junior Colby Rankin, who is playing with great confidence after stepping up in a big way in the semifinal win over Alder.
For DeSales, the Stallions are led by the big three of senior Kayin Derden, junior Kobe Righter and sophomore Desmond Watson. Derden surpassed 1,000 career points in the semifinal win over Granville and will be tasked with keeping up with Safford. These two have been the top two wings in their class for the last three years and should converge for another classic battle.
Righter is one of the better scoring guards anywhere in the junior class, as he can get to the rim, is a dependable shooter and has a tight enough handle to keep the defense off balance. The x-factor will be Watson, who is one of the best sophomores in Central Ohio. At 6-foot-4, Watson is a multi-level scorer who plays in the post for DeSales. The Stallions will need a big boy performance from him to overcome a Hartley team that comes in with big-time confidence behind its senior leader Safford.
As is the case with any CCL game, look for this to be a physical battle between two teams that can't stand one another. After having its senior night and CCL outright title chances ruined by the Hawks, you can expect DeSales to come into Saturday with a different intensity.
Hartley is looking to bounce back from a district final loss to Beechcroft a year ago and make noise in the Kettering regional tournament where the winner of Saturday's game will take on Dayton Northridge, who upset highly favored Cincinnati Taft on Thursday.
This one could go either way. If Safford nears 30 points like he did in the last matchup, look for Hartley to come away with a win. On the other side, if DeSales gets double figure performances from Derden, Righter and Watson, the Stallions will have a great shot to get the job done.
Ohio Dominican University - 1 p.m.
Outlook: If the NFL is anything like it was the last time Berne Union played for a district title, the Cleveland Browns will be world champions by this time next year. Yes, that's how long it has been since the Rockets have advanced this far in the tournament.
Making its first district final appearance since 1964, Berne Union faces up for a rubber match against Fisher Catholic. The two MSL-Cardinal programs split the regular season series, each winning at home, which makes this grudge match very intriguing.