By Dean Eversole
The OHSAA boys final four opened Thursday in Columbus with four semifinal games in Division III and Division IV.
Liberty Benton, the No. 1 team in D-III, held off Cleveland St. Villa-St. Josephs, 63-56, in the opening act of championship weekend. The Eagles improved to 26-0 on the season and will play North College Hill Saturday for the championship.
Nathan Hyde lit up the Schottenstein Center with 27 points and snatched 11 rebounds pacing the Eagles' victory. T.J. Recker added 13 in the winning effort. Nate Barnes led VASJ with 15 points.
LB opened the game on an 11-0 run, putting the Vikings in a hole and they spent the rest of the game digging out of it. The game was nearly five minutes old before VASJ eliminated the big the zero on the scoreboard.
The closest they could get was to within two points when Scott Szczerpinski drained the a three-point shot making it 56-54 Liberty Benton.
The Eagles held off the Viking charge with clutch free throw shooting, advancing to the championship game Saturday.
North College Hill Advances on a Prayer
The second Division III semifinal game between North College Hill and Wheelersburg mirrored the first, with one big exception.
Just like Liberty Benton, North College Hill jumped out to a big lead, but unlike LB, the Trojans were unable to hold the advantage in regulation. All ended well for NCH when Damon Butler helped his team advance, 67-65, with a shot that will go down in state history.
After being down 42-29 late in the third period, Wheelersburg stormed back and completed a thrilling comeback, capped by Seth Cowgill's fadeaway three with just one second remaining in regulation. The shot knotted the game at 57-57 and it was off to overtime.
In the extra stanza the game went back and forth until Wheelersburg found itself in a familiar situation, trailing the Trojans. With its season on the verge of ending, Drew Spradlin hit two free throws with four ticks remaining, knotting the game at 65-65, setting up the dramatic finish.
Butler put an end to the wild game with a prayer. The senior point guard took the inbound pass, raced up the court and hit a running three at the buzzer giving his team the victory and a chance at the rare three-peat.
Butler hit for 26 points on the day to pace the Trojans. Wheelersburg and D-III Player of the Year, Camden Miller matched Butler's points and snatched 17 rebounds.
Dunbar Looks to Repeat in Division III
The Dayton Dunbar Wolverines will look to repeat as Division II state champions Saturday. It will mark the third-straight year Dunbar has reached the D-II title game.
Led by Cole Norris, Jr.'s 24 points, Dunbar downed Columbus St. Francis DeSales, 56-43. The Wolverines trailed only once in the contest - 6-5 in the first quarter - but when the first eight minutes were over Dunbar was up 19-8 and on its way.
Using mostly a zone defense Dunbar held Alex and Nick Kellogg (Former Ohio State star and current CBS analyst Clark Kellogg's sons) to a combined 12 points, making it a very long day for the Knights.
The closest DeSales got was 39-37 near the end of the third. But midway through the fourth period, the Wolverines sealed the deal with a 15-0 run, punching their ticket to Saturday's state title game.
Elijah Allen dropped in 16 points in the losing effort.
Diebler and Upper Sandusky Advance
Jon Diebler, Ohio's Mr. Basketball, dropped in 24 points to lead Upper Sandusky to an easy 89-58 win over Poland Seminary. Diebler, who averages 41.2 points a game, fell short of that goal, but he demonstrated why he is considered the top player in Ohio.
Diebler hit NBA-range threes, was a pest defensively, and had a handful of dunks. Poland had no answer for Diebler and no answer for Upper Sandusky.
The win sets up a rematch of the 2005 Division II title game when Upper Sandusky, led by Diebler's 32 points, outscored Dunbar, 95-90.