NEWARK, Ohio -- Coming into the game at 22-0 and 12-0 in Licking County League play, Heath had one more test in a road match-up against Newark Catholic on Friday night. In front of a packed gym with rabid fans on both sides, Newark Catholic looked to play spoiler and end the Bulldog’s undefeated regular season, and appeared as though they may be the team to finally do so for a majority of the game.
Heath stayed the course, however, making winning plays down the stretch to regain their footing and take control in the final minutes of the game to pull out a 51-39 win and finish the regular season unbeaten.
Heath started the game looking much like they have all season - overwhelmingly long and athletic - and got off to a great offensive start on the backs of two tough lay-ins by sophomore Keylan Williams that included a converted and-one.
However, Newark Catholic got more comfortable in their half-court zone defense and strung together multiple stops in a row to give their offense a chance to make a comeback. Senior Matt Carlisle’s lay-in off a missed free throw allowed the Green Wave to take the lead shortly before the end of the quarter, and while a three by sophomore marksman Josh Guy put the Bulldogs up one soon after, unbeaten Heath led just 13-12 after one.
The second quarter was all Green Wave as they completely manhandled Heath on the defensive end, shutting down sophomore big man Brandon McLaughlin and not allowing any of Heath’s playmakers to get going as Williams sat out for much of the period.
In a low-scoring quarter, confident driving scores by sophomores Cole Canter and Brandon Buchanan and a contested hook shot by junior Matthew Gialdini near the end of the half allowed Newark Catholic to take a 21-18 lead into halftime.
After gaining momentum going into the break, Newark Catholic kept it going as the second half opened and grew their lead by stringing together multiple defensive stops and taking advantage of their opportunities on the other end. Canter nailed an impressive three off the dribble to give Newark Catholic their biggest lead of the game early in the quarter, and driving lay-ins by he and senior Slater Evans gave the Green Wave an eight point lead with less than three minutes to go in the third.
With all the momentum and their home crowd behind them, it appeared as though Newark Catholic could possibly be the team to finally end Heath’s magical undefeated regular season run.
Enter Heath’s Josh Guy. The hero from the Bulldog’s toughest game of the regular season, a low-scoring one-point victory at Granville in which the sophomore’s four made threes proved to be the difference, it was Guy once again who sparked the Heath offense off the bench.
Despite not getting any easy looks due to Newark Catholic’s continued defensive intensity, Guy found space to get his outside shot off and sunk two huge threes down the stretch of the third quarter to keep the game within reaching distance for the Bulldogs.
Newark Catholic maintained a narrow 34-30 lead going into the final period, setting up a season-defining quarter for both teams.
Newark Catholic clung to their lead as the fourth quarter opened, but Heath began to gain steam, and a corner three followed by four consecutive made free throws by the previously scoreless Nate Langley gave the Bulldogs their first lead in over two quarters at 39-35.
The Green Wave’s hopes of getting back into the game proved to be short lived, as Williams’ leaping steal and assist to sophomore Reece Huber in transition gave Heath a decisive five point advantage with just over two minutes to go in the game.
Heath got a stop on defense and forced the Green Wave to foul to send Huber to the line, and his two made free throws made the Bulldog lead insurmountable.
Newark Catholic attempted to trap and press Heath into turnovers but continued to have to foul as the battle-tested Bulldogs calmly put the game on ice with ball movement and more free throws. As the game clock winded down, Heath comfortably dribbled the ball out and closed out their undefeated regular season with a decisive, hard-fought road victory.
Despite the loss, Newark Catholic gave Heath one of their biggest scares of the season and put together a valiant effort that is sure to give them momentum heading into the tournament, where they earned the #5 seed in the Division IV Columbus 1 District. Evans led the Green Wave with 11 points and left it all on the court on Friday, coming up with a huge charge and multiple steals that allowed his team to give Heath a run for their money.
Canter also finished in double figures with 10 points, and senior big man Matt Carlisle cleaned the glass and added eight points of his own. Newark Catholic finishes their regular season at Cardington on Tuesday and will face off against #16 seed KIPP in the first round of the tournament next Friday.
Heath put a bow on their incredible regular season run, finishing unbeaten in the regular season and in the league, proving themselves once more as a force to be reckoned with in their Division II district and possibly the state level despite relying on a very young, yet extremely talented, core.
Williams led Heath with 11 points and put the game away for good with his late free throws. Huber also added 11 points off the bench and has proven himself time and time again to be a source of instant playmaking for this Heath team. Guy finished with nine points on three made threes.
Heath will face off against Highland in the first round of the playoffs and should they win, will set up a much-anticipated rematch against Granville in the sectional final. Heath will look to continue their magical season into what could potentially be a long postseason run, and has been one of the most impressive storylines of the season as they finish as LCL-Cardinal champions and undefeated.