Central's Dareon Jones swats away the shot of Stow-Munroe Falls' Ryan Yurkschatt in a D-I regional title win. Jones had four blocks. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This PhotoForget luck of the Irish, forget team of destiny, and forget the label of tournament Cinderella.
Catholic Catholic is headed to the boys state basketball semifinals for the first time in 62 years, and coach Jim Welling's Fighting Irish no longer need any creative terms to explain how they have advanced to this point of the Division I tournament.
Not after Saturday night, anyway, as Central confirmed that it is a simply a pretty darn good basketball team by pushing its season record to 20-4 with a dominant 61-33 victory over an overwhelmed Stow-Munroe Falls (22-3) in a regional final at Savage Arena.
Sophomore forward sub Keith Towbridge topped the Irish in scoring with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, and the 1-2 punch of senior team leaders Drew Lehman and Dareon Jones added 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Central’s Drew Lehman grimaces after colliding with Stow-Munroe Falls’ Michael Greenwell at Savage Arena. Lehman scored 15 points as the Irish improved to 20-4 on the season. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo"They've come a long way since the beginning of the year," said Welling, the former highly successful coach at Owens Community College, who is in his third season at Central. "They had to get humbled a couple times by some other teams, but they kept believing in each other and they kept working extremely hard.
"Defense is the key. We don't have prolific offensive players, but they sure do listen and defend. We work on offense and defense for an hour each every day and, when all of those fundamentals and technique come together, this [trip to state] is the byproduct of all that."
Central last lost in its regular-season finale — a 44-38 defeat at the hands of eventual City League champion Whitmer — on this same court in the CL playoff semifinals on Feb. 22.
But in this month with the Ides of March and St. Partick's Day, Central has been a team on a mission.
The next phase of that mission comes 5:15 p.m. Friday when the Irish play third-ranked Cincinnati LaSalle (24-2) in a D-I state semifinal at Value City Arena in Columbus. LaSalle defeated Cincinnati Moeller 46-35 in a regional final played Friday night.
In this game, the Irish broke out to a 12-3 lead after one quarter, extended it to 28-9 at halftime and cruised in the second half.
Central was equally dominant on offense and defense for much of the game.
The Irish shot 58 percent (25 of 43) from the field, were 7 of 10 from the line, and outrebounded the Bulldogs 31-21. Stow, which was led by 13 points from David Walker, meanwhile struggled from the outset.
Stow was 10 of 37 (27 percent) from the field and 12 of 22 from the line.
Central’s Keith Towbridge is fouled by Ryan Yurkschatt. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This PhotoThe Bulldogs did not score their first point until midway in the first quarter, at which point they trailed 9-1. When Lehman scored on a double-pump layup 2:01 before halftime, Central owned a commanding 24-4 lead.
Stow went the first 5:21 of the second period without even getting a field-goal attempt.
After Central bumped its lead to 32-12 on a Lehman drive two minutes into the third quarter, the closest the Bulldogs could get thereafter was 14 points.
"We kept attacking and were getting easy shots, and we didn't have the ball long enough to have dumb turnovers," Lehman said of Central's most dominant tourney victory thus far.
"This is a great feeling," he added. "We just keep trying to get better every day. We're confident in ourselves, and we're just executing everything our coaches tell us to do.
"Regardless of whether everyone thinks we're the underdog or not, we just come out and try to play our best basketball."
Jones turned in an outstanding all-around game, adding seven rebounds, four blocked shots, four steals, and three assists.
"The secret is just being passionate and locking down on defense," Jones said. "Coach said the offense will come, because we spread the floor and we work the ball around.
"No one on our team is selfish, and that's a good thing. Our coach feels we're the best team in the state on defense, and we're proving it."
The Irish’s Dareon Jones pulls down a rebound. JETTA FRASER / TOLEDO BLADE EnlargeSenior Jay Marquette and sophomore Deontae Cole added seven and six points, respectively, for the Irish, who had lost to Lima Senior 67-65 in the closing seconds of their last regional-final appearance back in 1968.
"To be a sophomore and playing varsity basketball at this level, going to the final four, it feels great," said Towbridge, who also added eight rebounds and topped his previous career high for points (17) from one week ago.
Joining Central at state will by fellow City League member Rogers (16-5), which beat Rocky River in a Division II regional final played yesterday at Bowling Green's Anderson Arena. The last time two CL teams qualified was in 2008, when Libbey lost 70-69 to Chillicothe in overtime of the D-II state final, and Whitmer fell against eventual champion Newark in the D-I semifinals.
Click here to see a Central Catholic-Stow-Munroe Falls photo gallery.
Central's last appearance at state came in 1949, when coach Larry Bondy's Irish lost 70-52 to Hamilton in the championship game.
Joining Central at the state tournament will be another City League team — Rogers (16-5) — which won a Division II regional final over Rocky River at Bowling Green's Anderson Arena yesterday afternoon.
Welling compared the thrill of this tourney run to his back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association national titles (1992 and 1993) at Owens.
"This ranks up there," he said, "but it means a lot to me because my daughter Brooke graduated from Central, and this school has been nothing but family since the day she enrolled there."
The Irish opened tourney play with a 66-44 sectional final win over Southview at Waite, recorded upset wins over the two City League foes — 10th-ranked Whitmer (28-27) and fourth-ranked St. John's Jesuit (63-59) — in last week's districts. Central edged Greater Buckeye Conference champion Findlay 36-34 on Thursday night.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.