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Jonathan Alder and Worthington Christian embracing tough road to the district finals

By Adam Robbins, 02/26/19, 10:10AM EST

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Despite earning the No. 2 seed in Div. II and Div. III, the tournament draw did Jonathan Alder and Worthington Christian no favors

PLAIN CITY, Ohio -- Two very different styles of play. Two very successful regular seasons. Two very tough tournament draws.

Jonathan Alder and Worthington Christian, the two seeds in Division II and Division III respectively, began tournament play on Monday night. Both of these teams have the potential to play deep into March, but their draw did them little favors.

For Jonathan Alder and coach Brent Cahill, it’s been quite the season. The Pioneers played a brutal schedule, but they still managed to go 16-6 and grab the two seed. They dropped their last three games to end the regular season, but Cahill and his team responded well in the first step of what figures to be a deep tournament run in Monday’s sectional semifinal win over Licking Valley.

“We have a resilient bunch though so I know they’ll respond the right way when we start prepping for Licking Valley,” Cahill said on last week. That ended up coming to fruition as the Pioneers rolled to a 63-36 victory over a tough Panthers team.

Under Cahill, the Pioneers have been stout defensively and patient offensively. While most of their games are in the 40s or 50s due to their tendencies, they’ve still managed to have four guys average double-figures (Jackson Izzard, Jackie Santa-Emma, Henry Walker and Jacob Koenig). With those four guys, Cahill thinks they have a chance.

“Our key is always controlling the glass, offensive and defensive rebounding,” he said. “We also value the ball, so our keys are winning the turnover and rebounding battle. Obviously in tournament time it’s always making crucial plays offensively down the stretch, something we have to do.”

With their bracket though, they may have to do that against a lot of highly-talented teams. When the brackets were released, most teams tended to stay away from the overall top seed, Columbus South (21-1). Cahill said this may be the best team South's had in awhile, so there is a reasoning for why No.2 Alder, No.3 DeSales, No. 4 Hartley, No.5 Granville and No. 8 London are all in the opposite bracket.

“We wanted to give ourselves the best chance to advance,” he said. “You either get to put yourself on the bracket or pass, and as the two seed we obviously wanted to put ourselves on it and see who was going to come after us. It didn’t surprise me. I knew there would be more teams going in the bottom bracket because of how strong South is this year.”

Alder isn’t the only one experiencing this situation. Coach Kevin Weakley and Worthington Christian are in the same boat. After going 17-4 this season, the Warriors saw No. 3 Johnstown, No. 5 Fairbanks (who lost to No. 10 Bishop Ready on Monday), 6 Grandview Heights, No. 9 West Jefferson and No. 10 Bishop Ready all join their bracket, opposite of one seed and heavy favorite Harvest Prep.

“Harvest Prep is obviously a good team and they’ve had a lot of success the last couple of years,” he said. “We actually didn’t anticipate getting the two seed. Had we been the three or four seed we probably would have jumped in their bracket because we think we’d have a good shot to match up with them.”

Coach Weakley may not have expected to get the two seed, but the Warriors had a fantastic season as well. They stuck to their style and pushed the ball offensively while picking up full-court defensively, and now that this young team has chemistry they’ve shown how talented they are by winning their last 11 games after a stout performance against Northridge in the sectional semifinals on Monday.

Oh, and they’ve got a big-time player in DJ Moore. The freshman is averaging 18.4 points per game and has shown the potential of a future high-level Division I basketball player. Pairing him with Tyler Kindberg, Nakimba Mullins and potentially Derrick Hardin (meniscus) has made this team one to watch.

With only two of the top 10 seeds heading to Harvest Prep’s bracket, it was clear the Warriors are the undisputed top dog in Division III. After losing a tough game to Africentric in last year’s state semifinal, the Warriors are back and just as good as they’ve been in the past. They are 21-2 and led by their stud junior guard CJ Anthony, a future major conference basketball player.

Coach Cahill and coach Weakley both understand that it’s going to be tough to navigate through their regions, but they both think they have some X-factors that could really carry them deep.

For Alder, they are going to control the glass, not turn the ball over and take things one day at a time.

“I always tell our guys winning the first game is important to get on a roll,” Cahill said. “Division II is probably the hardest bracket to predict because teams play very different schedules. In the tournament the records can be tossed out the window.”

For Worthington Christian, the play of Kindberg and senior Jake Nowak has and will continue to be huge.

“Jake, he’s one of our two seniors, he has really come on lately,” he said. “He doesn’t get a lot of pub because he doesn’t score much, but he is a really tough on the ball defender and he’s a great rebounder for his size. Tyler and Jake’s improved play has allowed us to get to the next level both offensively and defensively.”

Kindberg went for 19 points in Monday’s 66-46 win over Northridge, which comes a few days after back-to-back scoring performances of 21 points to end the regular season.

If both teams continue to play to their strengths, they definitely have a chance to go far. The first goal for both coaches is a district title, and both agreed that once that happens anything else can happen.

Their brackets aren’t going to do them any favors with a handful of top 10 seeds heading their way, but there is also reason for optimism. Based on the seasons that Jonathan Alder and Worthington Christian had though, it’s tough to see these teams not making a deep run this postseason.

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