COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It’s district title week in Central Ohio. Across all four divisions, 32 teams remain in Central Ohio. By the end of the week, that number will dwindle to just 10.
Let’s take a look at what’s on tap in the area in Division II, in the third part of a four-part series this week.
For the third time this season, Linden-McKinley and Beechcroft will battle head to head in an important matchup with none being more important than Wednesday’s district semifinal. Linden won both matchups during the regular season, beating the Cougars in overtime on the road and handling Beechcroft in impressive fashion on its senior night to lock up a City North title for the first time since 1992. Linden junior Chance Groce put the stamp on his first team All-City honors when he hit a cold-blooded three to send the first matchup to an overtime period that Linden won, while locking up on the defensive perimeter in the return match to power the Panthers to a program-changing win. Beechcroft was hungry for a rematch, jumping on Linden’s line and setting up for a big-time rubber match. The Cougars have enjoyed more tournament success as of late, being the last North division team to win a district title in a magical run in 2018. It’ll be interesting to see if that experience factors in at all as Linden hasn’t been in a position to win a district title since a Cinderella run to state back in 2005.
Speaking of Cinderellas, Eastmoor may just be the darling of the Division II tournament after going on the road and knocking off Buckeye Valley last Saturday. The Warriors might be favored once again on Wednesday when they take on a London team without star junior Trey Woodyard, who suffered an ankle injury that will have him sidelined for the second-straight tournament game. Despite Woodyard’s absence, London pulled out a gutsy win on the road at Bloom-Carroll but will face a much different challenge against an Eastmoor team playing with great confidence and belief. The play of seniors Julian Binford and Da’Lon Keaton has been paramount for Eastmoor, as the veterans have heavily stepped up and provided some major contribution. For London, the Red Raiders will once again need big games from senior Isaiah Hatem and junior Jainaz Cameron to overcome a Warrior team that will pressure them and look to capitalize off mistakes in transition. Eastmoor coach James Miranda is one of the best in the area when it comes to tournament time, leading the Warriors to two state tournament runs since 2015. This will be one of the most competitive games of the night.
Staying on the Cinderella topic, Bexley is another underdog team that deserves a deal of praise. The Lions provided the upset of the tournament when they went on the road and upset No. 9 Bishop Watterson, the same team who beat No. 1 Jonathan Alder late in the regular season. The Lions have their biggest challenge yet in the form of top-seeded Alder that has D2’s top defense. The Pioneers will likely focus their approach on shutting down Bexley senior Damian Davis, who is the lifeblood of the Lions and has enjoyed a major tournament performance. Alder might be the best team Bexley has played all year, as the Pioneers mix elite defense with widespread scoring between junior Jackson Izzard, senior Jack Santa-Emma and senior Henry Walker, who all can attack a defense in different ways. Bexley has faced a gauntlet of a schedule in the MSL-Ohio and could once again find lightning in a bottle against an Alder team that is on a mission to win its first district title since 1979.
It’s going down tonight at Bloom-Carroll. Unbeaten Heath enters the district semifinals against a DeSales team that will give the Bulldogs their toughest challenge all year. Rolling through the Licking County League and handling a non-conference schedule that wasn’t nearly as challenging as DeSales’, Heath will be tested in a major way on Wednesday. DeSales is led by one of the area’s elite players in Desmond Watson, who is a high-motor scoring machine fresh off a visit to Ohio State. The Stallions are a three-headed monster offensively with Watson carrying the load and smaller guards Kobe Righter and Austin Mann providing key contributions. Heath is unique in that the Bulldogs’ point of attack and top options are both sophomores , as 6-foot-8 Brandon McLaughlin and 6-foot-5 Keylan Williams were a nightmare for LCL defenses to contain. DeSales doesn’t have a true post presence but has enough length and athleticism inside to give Heath some problems. If Watson has one of his signature games and puts DeSales on his back, the Stallions will have a great chance to hand Heath their first and only loss of the year. Despite the personnel advantages that DeSales might have, Heath’s 24-0 record can’t be overlooked, as the Bulldogs have overcome adversity and found a way to win in the toughest of circumstances. This is as good as a district semifinal can get with two of the top three seeds battling for not only a district title but a trip to a favorable Athens regional - which was the only reason the top three seeds jumped in the same bracket in the first place.
Garrett Tipton - Bellarmine