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End of the Road: Westerville Central's tournament magic falls one point short to Centerville

By Greg Glasser, 03/21/21, 10:45PM EDT


Warhawks experience heart-breaking loss in first ever state championship

DAYTON, Ohio --  The Warhawks had been in this position before.

Never intimidated by a deficit or must-win scenarios, Westerville Central had gotten to their first ever state championship because of heroic moments set up like this.

So after Centerville went on a 9-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to take a four-point lead with under a minute to go, Westerville Central didn't flinch.

Like all season long,  a different player would step up for the Warhawks at any given moment and on Sunday night, it was Landon Tillman's turn.

The five-foot-ten senior drilled his fourth three-pointer of the game to cut the Elks lead to just one.

After the Warhawks applied their exceptional brand of on-ball defense, Westerville Central forced a Centerville turnover that would give coach Kevin Martin and his team a chance at the final possession.

Down one point, with less than 10 seconds and with the ball to inbound underneath their own hoop, Centerville forced Tillman, the Warhawks best shooter of the day, into a difficult corner three that just hit front rim.  

Unlike previous close outings, Sunday's Division I state championship went against the Warhawks as the Elks secured their first ever state title with a 43-42 victory.

The Warhawks overcome a first half that saw poor outside shooting, as they went 2-of-9 from deep and only scored 18 points. Meanwhile, Centerville executed their half-court offense well and shot 50% from the field to give the Elks a four-point halftime lead.

Westerville Central would find their offensive firepower, much thanks to timely three-pointers from Tillman and senior MJ Davis who for the fourth straight game had multiple triples.

The Warhawks defense  then stepped up when it mattered the most as they held the Elks scoreless in the final two and a half minutes of play.   

But the Elks provided excellent defense of their own, in particular by Gabe Cupps, who did a strong job of preventing Warhawks star senior and Central District player of the year Tasos Cook from taking the final shot.

Playing in their first state tournament appearance in school history, what made the Elks performance even more impressive is that a majority of their production was from underclassmen.

The sophomore Cupps was the player of the game, as he co-led scorers with 16 points, had 3 assists and athletic defense that made for a significant challenge towards the Warhawks talented trio of guards.  

The son of Centerville head coach Brook Cupps, the six-foot-two guard showed incredibly mature composure for his age at this stage of play.   He connected on three-of-five attempts from deep and has a natural offensive ability showcased at a high level. 

Cupps was joined by juniors Tom House and Rich Rolf who had nine points each. 

All but four of Centerville's points were scored by players that will return for the Elks next season, a team that will deservedly be considered a favorite in Division I.

Meanwhile, it is the opposite situation for Westerville Central.  Every single point was scored by the Warhawks four starting seniors who finish as the winningest class in school history.

Tillman led with 16 points, while Cook finished with 14,  Davis had eight and Quincy Clark had four points and four assists.

Outside of Davis, a recent commit to Otterbein, all three seniors remain unsigned, but more than worthy of scholarship offers to choose from. 

After their historic season, the Warhawks will have a new look next year as their most experienced players will be forwards junior Brad Leonard and sophomore Donovan Hunter.

A team that rightfully felt a sense of destiny as they entered Sunday's game ended the season in heartbreak fashion, but will forever be remembered in Warhawks history.

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