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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2009

No clear favorite heading into City League playoffs

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The City League boys basketball playoffs promise to be a wide-open chase beginning with Tuesday night's semifinals at Savage Arena.

Since the CL installed it s current four-team title format in 1991, there have been a few surprises and upsets over the years. But most of the previous 18 playoffs usually had a clear-cut favorite, or two strong contenders.

This year, the consensus around the league is that the championship is truly up for grabs.

The surprising top seed is coach Dave Pitsenbarger s Waite squad (14-3), which posted a 10-1 CL mark despite graduating all five starters from last year s CL playoff team. The rebuilt Indians lone league loss came by an eye-opening 69-46 score 12 nights ago at Central Catholic (12-6, 8-3), which enters as the No. 4 seed.

That matchup tips off at 6:30 Tuesday night.

We re proud of being the top seed, Pitsenbarger said. We were hoping just to make the top four, so this is icing on the cake. It s a tribute to our entire program and staff for all the hard work they put in.

Waite is led by 6-3 senior Darius Glover (18.9 points, 9.1 rebounds) and 6-1 sophomore Ke-Sean Harris. Central s balanced attack is paced by 6-2 senior Bruce Huntley (13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds).

I m really proud of these guys, said first-year Irish coach Jim Welling. They bought into the system about five weeks ago, and ever since they committed to what we re teaching. They ve been terrific.

The second semifinal pits No. 2 seed St. John s Jesuit (13-5, 9-2) against No. 3 Start (13-5, 8-3) at 8:30 p.m.

In the league s preseason coaches poll, Waite was picked to finish fifth in the CL, Central eighth. That prognostication and the actual result are indicative of the parity in the City this year.

If either Waite or Central emerge as champion from Thursday night s 7:30 final at Savage Arena, a long drought will be ended.

The Indians have not won a CL boys basketball championship since sharing first place with Central and Woodward back in 1953. Waite lost twice in title games, each time to Scott, 42-37 in 1974 and 48-47 in 2001.

Central s Irish won the first City championship game ever played, 43-40 over Libbey in 1968, but have not captured a crown since. In fact, Central has only reached one other title game, falling 52-45 to St. John s in 1995.

St. John s, which has won 11 CL titles in 17 championship-game appearances under 30th-year head coach Ed Heintschel, was the preseason favorite to win this year. The Titans returned their starting five from last year s City and district runner-up team, including 6-1 senior Michael Taylor (15.6 points) and 6-7 senior Tim Simmons (11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds).

But the veteran Titans have struggled at times with chemistry throughout the season, although the ship now seems headed in the right direction. On the same night Central pounded Waite, St. John s defeated visiting Start 64-49.

It s day to day, Heintschel said of his team s chemistry. I would hope that we ve got it but I m never really sure.

Start had not returned to the CL playoffs since beating Libbey 69-51 to win the 1997 championship under former head coach Gil Guerrero.

Guerrero, in his second sting at Start, was slotted to be the Spartans coach this season until resigning in late November to accept an assistant s position at Owens Community College.

That left Ted Pasqualone as interim head coach, and Guerrero s former assistant has the Spartans back in the title chase led by 6-9 senior Devin Russell (16.3 points, 12.8 rebounds) and 5-11 junior guard Anthony Henderson, the CL s leading scorer (21.9 points).

This was our goal to get in, Pasqualone said, because it s been 11 years. I m just very excited for the guys. This is what they wanted, and we almost let it go losing to St. John s and almost losing to Scott [last Friday].

Contact Steve Junga at:sjunga@theblade.comor 419-724-6461.



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