JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
One thing is for sure entering Thursday night's City League boys basketball championship game at Savage Arena.
One team will end a long title drought. The only question will be whether it's 42 years or 19.
Central Catholic (16-2) solidified this drought-breaking matchup, jumping out on Whitmer early and cruising to a 54-39 victory in last night's second CL semifinal here.
Junior guard Drew Lehman led the Irish with 19 points and sophomore forward Tony Mays added 11, sending Central — which last won a City championship in 1968 — into a winter version of the Irish-Knight football rivalry against St. Francis de Sales (13-6).
The Knights, whose last City title came in 1991, toppled defending champion and preseason favorite St. John's Jesuit 72-63 in last night's first semifinal.
“I doubt if either myself or coach [Nick] Lowe are thinking about those things,” Central coach Jim Welling said of the droughts. “We're just thinking about each other's strengths and weaknesses, and what we have to do to exploit each other.
“It's great to be back in the finals. We'll see what our kids have.”
Central lost 49-42 to St. John's in last year's CL final.
Ironically, it was the exploits of Lehman and the Irish who made it possible for the Knights to even get into the CL playoffs as the No. 4 seed. Lehman scored 30 points, including the game-winning basket with 13 seconds remaining last Thursday as Central rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes to edge Rogers 69-68.
Had Rogers held on, the Rams would have been the No. 4 seed and eliminated St. Francis.
Central pretty much eliminated Whitmer's chances in the opening half of this game, when they forced the Panthers into 12 turnovers and limited them to just 11 field-goal attempts through two quarters.
That was one less attempt than field goals Central made (12) in the half while building 30-18 halftime edge. Lehman scored 11 of his points before the break to lead that charge.
“We wanted to get off to a good start and not give them a chance to think they could beat us from the beginning,” Lehman said of his team's first-half energy.
“We came out aggressive. We always talk about being aggressive on defense, and that leads to being aggressive on offense. That's where a lot of our points came from in the first half.”
After halftime, Whitmer did make things interesting, cutting the deficit to 37-30 on a bucket from freshman standout Nigel Hayes with 48.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the Irish regained momentum on Jay Marquette's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the period ahead by 10, the Panthers (14-5) got back within seven on three other occasions in the fourth quarter.
The last of these was at 44-37 on a Franklin Lindsey bucket with 5:04 to play. But Whitmer, playing without injured 6-5 junior Ken Hayes, a third-year starter, got no closer.
“At halftime we had 12 turnovers,” Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. “When you lose 12 opportunities to put the ball in the basket, you have a pretty good idea why you're down 12.”
Central hit six of nine free throws in the final 3:38 to ice things.
Whitmer — which got 11 points from Nigel Hayes and 10 each from Mike Szymanski and Dareon Jones — was 14-of-27 from the field, 8-of-14 from the line, and ended with 16 turnovers to eight for Central.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.