Westerville South keeps its cool, fights off Garfield Heights
By Pat Magers
COLUMBUS – His veteran forward, DJ Dingess, was on the bench in foul trouble and high-flying Garfield Heights was suddenly on the run.
But Westerville South coach Ed Calo didn’t panic even if he did admit the thought of taking a few risks crossed his mind.
Calo and the Wildcats rode out the storm, overcame a 10-point deficit and rallied for a 60-57 win over the Bulldogs in a Division I state boys basketball semifinal at Value City Arena Friday night.
Fifth-ranked Westerville South will take a 27-1 record into tonight’s 8:30 p.m. championship game against Huber Heights Wayne. The Warriors (25-4), ranked eighth in the final poll, knocked off defending state champion Lakewood St. Edward 57-51 in overtime.
The Wildcats trailed 30-28 when Dingess picked up his third personal foul just 28 seconds into the second half. That sent Branden Johnson to the line for a couple free throws to start a 13-5 run that produced a 43-33 lead.
Johnson had four points in the run, Frankie Hughes had five, including a 3-pointer and Willie Jackson added four as Garfield Heights had its 10-point advantage with 5:01 still to play in the third period. Jackson, a second-team All-Ohioan who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, was the driving force.
“It’s a great dilemma for a coach,” Calo said. “You go with what you believe in. (Jackson) does a great job of attacking the basket and we had no answer for him.
“But I want my (best) guys in there at the end of the game,” he said. “There is a point when you have to get guys back in there. And we were approaching that point, but we didn’t reach it.”
Instead, the Wesson Brothers, Andre and Kaleb, along with Jordan Humphrey led a comeback for Westerville.
Junior Andre Wesson, also a second-team All-Ohio selection, scored eight of his 17 points in a 10-2 stretch over the final 1:28 of the third period and first 2:03 of the fourth.
His layup in transition gave the Wildcats a 50-49 edge with 5:57 to play, their first time on the top side since a little more than a minute remained in the first half.
Jackson countered with two foul shots but Humphrey answered with a basket in transition and when Ennis Thomas tipped in his own miss for a 54-51 lead, the Wildcats were on top for good with 2:26 to play.
Kaleb Wesson, who joined Andre in leading the Wildcats with 17 points, hit four foul shots to finish an 8-for-8 night at the line to seal it. The 6-foot-9 wide-body sophomore also had 11 rebounds.
As big as Kaleb Wesson was inside, his numbers only served to reduce the damage Garfield Heights insiders did. Johnson backed Jackson with 19 points and nine boards while Hughes checked in with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, part of a 42-31 edge on the glass.
“We survived. There was a lot to handle for us out there,” Calo said. “They murdered us on the boards but our guys are just tough guys. They play well together and they don’t get discouraged.”
Bulldog coach Sonny Jackson second-guessed himself and suggested he should have stepped in when Westerville made its comeback.
“I think we had some crucial turnovers. We didn’t take care of the ball in certain situations,” Jackson said. “But I’m not sure it’s on the kids. I think maybe I could have managed things a little better there. That’s on me.”
Besides the big three for Garfield Heights, there was little else going on offense. Six other players combined to make just 1-of-19 field goal attempts.
MAGIC RUN CONTINUES FOR WAYNE – Huber Heights Wayne’s first-ever appearance in the state boys basketball tournament remained a memorable one after the Warriors knocked off St. Edward in Friday’s second game.
They did it in the most efficient way possible by blanking the Eagles in the extra session.
Ahmad Wagner gave Huber Heights the only points it would need with a strong post move to the hoop at the 2:16 mark of the overtime.
The Eagles had a chance to tie when Derek Funderburk went to the line with 1:48 left but he missed both attempts. D’Mitrik Trice and Rodrick Caldwell each hit a pair from the line in the final 27 seconds to stretch the margin.
It looked like anything but a Huber Heights win in the first quarter. Beginning with a Funderburk dunk and ending with a Michael Ryan dunk, the Eagles opened a 14-3 lead in the game’s first six minutes.
“We didn’t finish it (in regulation), it wasn’t pretty and we did some uncharacteristic things for us,” Wayne coach Travis Trice said. “I told them that champions find a way to win and the only thing that matters right now is that you’re moving on to the championship game.
“I was hoping for a better start but the good thing is the guys got settled in and they calmed down,” he said. “We started hitting shots.”
Actually, they started hitting second shots.
The Warriors watched St. Ed open with 7-for-8 shooting in the first period, 11-for-18 at the half and 20-for-41 for the game. Wayne didn’t shoot nearly as well – finishing at 19-for-49.
But in the process, the Warriors dominated inside with a 34-22 advantage on the boards. Even more impressive, Huber Heights had 12 offensive rebounds at the half and 18 for the game, nearly matching St. Ed’s total boardwork at both ends.
Trey Landers led with nine rebounds and Xerius Williams had eight to go with 13 points.
“Huber Heights Wayne is the most talented team we saw all year,” said veteran St. Edward coach Eric Flannery, whose team’s 21-6 record included losses to Cleveland Central Catholic, Franklin and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. “They have five guys on the floor who can score at any time.
“I felt like we did just about everything we could do to win the game except rebound,” he said. “A free throw or a layup here or there and we’re still playing. That’s the way the game is.”
The Warriors eased their way back into the game until finally Demond Parker hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to tie the game at 26-26.
The race was on from there.
Each team seemed to have a chance to put it away in the fourth quarter but watched the other rally.
Second-team All-Ohioan Kipper Nichols had a three-point play and Darien Knowles turned a steal into a basket for a 43-39 edge with 4:55 to go.
But the Warriors shifted the momentum a couple minutes later. Down 45-44, Trice hit a floater in the lane and then Caldwell, who led the Warriors with 17 points, turned a steal into a three-point play for a 49-45 advantage.
“We could have folded a couple times late, but we got some a couple turnovers and came back,” Flannery said.
Nichols, who led St. Edward with 20 points, hit a jumper with 27 seconds left to tie it at 51-51 and send the game to overtime.
Ryan added 14 points and Funderburk had 13 for the Eagles.