PLAIN CITY, Ohio -- It takes role players to win championships. DeSales knows how to win championships and it's because of role players like senior Obed Achirem.
Dominating the fourth quarter with his offensive rebounding and defense, the 6-foot-1 senior Achirem, who played in the post the entire game against a massive Jonathan Alder (20-1) frontline, made the necessary plays in the final minute to power DeSales (16-7) to their second-straight Division II district title over the Pioneers, 42-38.
It seemed as if the Pioneers were going to exorcise their district round CCL demons after a three-point play from senior Jackson Izzard with 1:34 remaining put Alder up 36-35.
It was here where Achirem made his rise in the game.
On DeSales' next possession, star senior Des Watson, who led all scorers with 20 points, missed a potential go-ahead leaner, however, the gritty senior Achirem would not be denied. Snatching an offensive rebound and finishing through a foul, Achirem calmly knocked down the ensuing free throw to put DeSales up for good at 38-36 with just under a minute remaining.
Achirem rose to the occasion once again on the defensive end of the floor, poking the ball loose from Pioneers guard Grant Welsch in help side defense and full out diving on the floor for the loose ball, recovering it and calling a timeout with 31.8 seconds to go.
On DeSales' next possession, Watson was intentionally fouled and knocked down two clutch free throws to give the Stallions the almost insurmountable four-point lead at 40-36 with 25 ticks left on the clock.
The Stallions, Watson and Achirem put the cherry on top on the game's next possession, as a missed three from Alder freshman Peyton Heiss led to a Watson tip out and assist to Achirem, who scored through his second foul in the final minute, putting the nail in the coffin at 42-36 with eight seconds to go.
Alder senior Jackson Izzard threw down a two handed dunk on the final possession of his great career, as the clock struck midnight on the unbeaten Pioneers in a 42-38 district final defeat.
The loss comes in heartbreaking fashion for Alder, who has been knocked out in the district tournament in the last three years by a combined seven points - twice to DeSales and once to Morgan Safford and Bishop Hartley.
The Pioneers looked to be in control early, as the three-ball was falling from junior Tyler Begin. Begin knocked down three first quarter triples as Alder jumped out to a 16-6 lead early in the second quarter.
It was here where DeSales senior Austin Mann scored all nine of his points, draining three major triples in a four minute sequence that resulted in an 11-2 run for the Stallions which put them right back in the game.
Izzard responded with two free throws moments later to extend the Alder lead to three at 20-17, but it was the next trip down where it looked like it might just be DeSales' day when junior Atticus Schuler banked in a knuckleball of a side spin three to knot the game at 20 going into halftime.
In the second half, no team led by more than three points at any point until the final 25 seconds, as an all out war broke out between Alder and DeSales. The Stallions notched their first lead since 2-0 on the opening possession of the third quarter on a post score from Watson.
From that point forward, we saw eight lead changes and two ties, as every time one team struck a major blow, the other countered with one just as strong. The fourth quarter presented a smorgasbord of action, as both teams went back and forth.
The Pioneers took a 30-28 lead on a euro-step finish from Izzard, but the senior would be out dueled by Watson, who responded with a strong drive to the rim where he was fouled.
Watson knocked down both attempts to knot the game at 30 with 6:19 to go. After forcing an Alder stop, DeSales got yet another offensive rebound put back from Achirem who gave the Stallions a 32-30 advance with just over five minutes left.
Moments later, Achirem was fouled inside by Alder Joey Walker, whose five blocks had shut down the DeSales interior game. With Walker having to go out with four fouls, Achirem knocked down one of two free throws and seemed to grow in confidence with DeSales leading 33-30.
Alder struck back with just under three minutes left, as a three from Welsch tied the game at 33.
Forcing a stop, Alder committed a crucial turnover when junior Taber Headings threw an errant pass to senior big man Grant Heimlich, who were both roughly 25 feet away from the basket, putting the ball back into the hands of DeSales with 2:15 to go.
Big time players make big time plays in big time games and Watson did just that, as a mid-range pull up from the Davidson signee gave the Stallions a 35-33 advantage with two minutes left.
Izzard wasted no time in responding, finishing through contact and completing a three-point play that gave the Pioneers their final lead at 36-35 with 1:34 left.
From that point forward, Achirem dominated the game on both ends of the floor and made the winning plays needed to power DeSales to their second-straight district title and a return trip to the Southeast Regional where they could have very well advanced to the state tournament last season before COVID-19.
Watson led the Stallions with 20 points, shooting 7-of-18 from the floor but converting late when it mattered most with the clutch free throws to ice the game. The Davidson commit has grown into quite the leader and has refused to let his team lose all season long, as DeSales will have a great shot to advance to their first state tournament since 2009.
Achirem was the game's MVP, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds, seven of which on the offensive end, while his steal and loose ball recovery with 31 seconds to go loomed large in the win. The Stallions were without Achirem's services last season due to injury, however, the 6-foot-1 senior has developed into a major piece of this team, as the Stallions might have lost by double digits without his energy and effort on the glass against an Alder frontline that stood five and eight inches taller than him.
Providing all of his points in one quarter, Mann's three triples in the second quarter got DeSales back into the game and helped them formulate the run that led to the nitty gritty second half. While he stands at 5-foot-5, Mann is a fearless competitor that is a relentless perimeter defender, as he helped disrupt Alder ball handlers all day long.
Juniors Schuler and Cruz Sanchez both have solid contribution on defense and the glass, combining for two blocks, two steals and a few deflections.
For Alder, Izzard ended a stellar career with 11 points, three rebounds and five assists. The senior did a great job getting his teammates involved all throughout the game and helped hold Watson to an average at best shooting night. An all-state performer in both football and basketball, Izzard is one of the best all-around athletes to come through Central Ohio in a few years.
Begin contributed all nine of his points in the first quarter on three-point triples, while Welsch pitched in six points on two threes. The underrated storyline in Saturday's game was the foul trouble that junior Joey Walker dealt with.
Swatting five shots on the interior and helping shut down the DeSales front line, Walker limited Achirem to 0-for-7 shooting before his fourth foul with 7:29 to go put the 6-foot-6 junior out of the game. Walker's absence gave DeSales added confidence on the interior, as Achirem scored all 10 of his points from that point forward to power the Stallions.
Senior Gavin Heimlich went for four points, four rebounds and two blocks. The 6-foot-9 senior has good hands, incredible length and reliable shooting touch to the three-point line.
Heiss pitched in three points off the bench, as the freshman showed no fear in a district title game as the youngest player on the floor by two years. We look forward to watching Heiss' development, as he has a chance to become a deadly scorer in the years to come.
A dream season ends in anguish for Alder, who finishes the year with just one blemish. The Pioneers will have to replace one of its all-time greats in Izzard, however, we have no doubt that we'll see them in the district final round once again next season. If the ball can bounce their way in 2022, you could see Alder cutting down their first pair of nets since 1979.
For DeSales, Saturday was business as usual for them in the last two years, coming out on the good side of another war against Alder. Heading back to the Southeast Region, the Stallions will more than likely take on a tough Chillicothe Unioto in Thursday's semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. at Southeastern High School in Chillicothe.
Unioto is highly favored to beat cinderella No. 13 seed Gallia Academy in Saturday night's district final. Unioto dispatched defending district champion Logan Elm in the district semifinal round, while also playing Worthington Christian close in a 58-46 loss on Dec. 3.
No matter what happens, DeSales will be the heavy favorite in the Southeast Region, as no other team has a player like Watson, while gritty role players like Achirem, Mann and Schuler help the Stallions win tough, adrenaline rushing games like Saturday.