COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It may not have come against the team they expected to play, but the result remained the same. Outlasting Walnut Ridge, who was filling in for Africentric on Saturday, Beechcroft won its second City League title in four years in a nail-biting 64-62 victory.
While Africentric was barred from playing in Saturday's City League championship game due to a COVID-19 case in the program, Walnut Ridge filled in and provided Beechcroft with a huge test. The Scots were competitive all game long and took a lead in the fourth quarter when junior Zion Blevins hit a go-ahead three.
That lead was short lived as Beechcroft super junior Amani Lyles returned to the game with four fouls and instantly took back the lead for the Cougars with an And-1 score with 4:56 to go.
Walnut Ridge took the lead back on a Tae'Von Bush score but that would be the final time the Scots led on Saturday. Beechcroft junior guards Javo Jordan and Jamari Strickland knocked down back to back threes that put the Cougars ahead 56-51 with 2:38 remaining.
Walnut Ridge trimmed the lead to three points a few times but could get no closer until the final whistle.
Beechcroft's work on the glass proved to be monumental, as junior Antwoin Reed made a major impact with 14 rebounds. Coming off the bench, senior Dametrius Forte provided the Cougars with huge minutes, finishing with four points, nine rebounds and tough interior defense.
Also plagued with foul trouble, junior guard JJ Simmons managed to stay on the floor for the entire second half, finishing with a team-high 19 points.
While he fouled out with 1:49 remaining and missed most of the second half, Lyles was the most valuable player in the game as his impact could not be understated. The 6-foot-8 junior finished with 12 points, five rebounds, four blocks and three steals and gave the Cougars the confidence they needed when he returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
Junior point guard Javo Jordan had an outstanding game running the team on both ends of the floor, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and two assists. Jordan's on-ball defense has been outstanding all season and shined once again on Saturday.
In his final game of the season due to the OHSAA's transfer rule, junior Jamari Strickland provided the Cougars with nine big points.
For Walnut Ridge, Bush was the alpha all game long. Bush exploded for 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five steals. In the second half, Bush was absolutely on fire, scoring 16 points of his 24. The 6-foot-5 senior had the Scots in a position to win the game but could not finish the job as Beechcroft hit the shots and got the stops they needed.
Outside of Bush, offense was hard to come by in the second half. Blevins scored nine of his 11 in the second half, while no other player had more than six points. Getting dominated on the glass, Walnut Ridge was much better with Lyles off the floor as the lane opened up for them to score.
With both teams now advancing to the postseason, Beechcroft will look to defend their Division II district title when they start tournament play on Tuesday. The Cougars will more than likely have to face rival Linden-McKinley in the district semifinals, the same team they knocked off in that round a year ago before taking down Eastmoor Academy to win the district.
For Walnut Ridge, the Scots will have a tough sectional semifinal matchup against Upper Arlington on the road. If they can put together a performance like they had in the second half on Saturday, the Scots will have a great chance to win a big tournament game on the road.