HILLIARD, Ohio -- For the third time in four years, Hilliard Bradley is a Central District champion.
Like the title teams before them, Saturday night’s 46-37 win over #6 Pickerington Central came by a complete team effort that showed preparation and minimal mistakes.
Despite being undersized and faced against a Tigers team with athletes that can play at the Division I collegiate level in various sports, the Jaguars never showed intimidation and were able to dictate control most of the game.
Hilliard Bradley's fearlessness was displayed early as they took a 12-2 lead to end the first quarter to a stunned half-capacity crowd that watched Pickerington Central miss shot attempts from all areas of the court.
While the Tigers continued to have trouble with their outside shooting, Pickerington Central started to collect offensive rebounds and convert on their putback attempts. The Tigers increased their defensive efforts and began to create turnovers that led to easy fast-break points. The final few minutes of the first half is when the Tigers started to utilize their size and athleticism to their advantage as they cut the lead down to 19-15 at half.
The offensive production picked up in the third as both teams would go blow-for-blow and score 13 points each. The Tigers started to connect from outside and hit three triples from three separate players.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars began to feed freshman Cade Norris in the post. Norris finished the quarter with two consecutive baskets which included an offensive putback at the buzzer to give the Jaguars a momentous four-point lead into the final period.
In a tight contest with increased pressure, a few late Pickerington Central mistakes were too much for the Tigers to overcome as Bradley would take advantage through an efficient job of killing clock, patient scoring and converted free throws.
With a nine-point lead in hand, the game ended on an AJ Mirgon breakaway dunk that ultimately was after the buzzer, but capped an emotional and determined win for the Jaguars to claim their third school district title.
It was a memorable victory for the Hilliard Bradley community, but it’s hard to not acknowledge the moment it was for the Norris family.
Coached by their father Brett, brothers Keaton Norris, a senior, and the freshman Cade both led all scorers with 13 each. Keaton had three assists and led the team with five rebounds, while Cade led with five assists and had four rebounds.
Listed at just six-foot-two, Cade displayed a physicality and competitive attitude against the Tigers six-foot-five duo of sophomores Devin Royal and Sonny Styles that showed a confidence far beyond his age. It was the type of performance against a high-quality opponent that should trigger Wright State to go ahead and make a package offer for Cade to join Keaton, a class of 2021 commit for the Raiders, in three years.
Cade was supported in the front court alongside his fellow six-foot-two forward, junior Peyton Murphy, who had perhaps the best game of his career as he showed a similar lack of intimidation against the Tigers. Murphy finished with eight points and also displayed a high-IQ passing ability with his three assists.
Mirgon added 10 points and four rebounds in an all-around excellent game for the senior.
No one for Pickerington Central scored in double digits, but it was a spread out effort as all of the Tigers' points were scored by their starting five.
Royal made perhaps the biggest impact for Pickerington with his nine points and nine rebounds. Royal showed why he is considered one of the area’s best young post prospects as he was a challenge for the Jaguars to keep away from the offensive glass.
Junior Josh Harlan scored eight points and was the only Tiger to hit more than one three-pointer. He also led the Tigers with four assists.
Seniors Garner Wallace and Zakai Alexander finished with nine and seven points, respectively.
The loss for the Tigers ends their 12-game win streak and marks the first time since 2011 that Pickerington Central has gone two straight years without a district title.
The Jaguars are now back in the position that was their final game of 2020 before the pandemic canceled their state title aspirations.
Hilliard Bradley advances to the regional semifinal as they’ll play #2 Westerville Central on Thursday at 8:30 pm at Ohio Dominican.