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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012

Panthers, Titans meet again in semifinal

2 teams split in regular-season; Irish, Cougars also in district

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Nate Harris scored 28 points as Central Catholic defeated Bowsher in a Division I sectional final. Nate Harris scored 28 points as Central Catholic defeated Bowsher in a Division I sectional final.
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Whitmer and St. John's Jesuit will tip off for a third time this season when they meet Thursday night in a Division I district semifinal at University of Toledo's Savage Arena.

The Three Rivers Athletic Conference rivals are each anchored by one of the state's top junior players.

St. John's 6-foot-8 guard-forward Marc Loving averages a team-best 22.9 points and leads with nine rebounds per game.

Whitmer's versatile 6-7 guard-forward Nigel Hayes provides plenty of leadership, averaging 13.9 points and 9.3 rebounds.

The Titans (16-6) and Panthers (20-2) split the two regular-season games but Whitmer captured an outright TRAC title.

Whitmer coach Bruce Smith expects another tough contest.

"That's the way it should be at the district level," Smith said. "We will have to play well to win."

TRAC member Central Catholic (18-4) will face Southview (10-12) of the Northern Lakes League in the second semifinal game.

With Loving and Hayes, the matchup offers an appealing clash.

"We need him [Loving] to play well to be successful," St. John's coach Ed Heintschel said. "But we've been talking about how other guys need to do what they need to do too. Every guy has his own thing to do."

Whitmer presents a similar approach to the game with Hayes.

Marc Loving, left, of St. John's battles Nigel Hayes of Whitmer. The two will meet again in a Division I district semifinal at UT's Savage Arena. Marc Loving, left, of St. John's battles Nigel Hayes of Whitmer. The two will meet again in a Division I district semifinal at UT's Savage Arena.
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"He's as important for us as Marc is for them," Smith said. "I would expect both to play well and I'm sure they will."

Yet, both coaches think the outcome may ultimately be decided by how well others respond to the competition.

Austin Gardner and Tarvis Malone have also been quite reliable for St. John's. Gardner, a 6-foot junior, averages 12.5 points while Malone, a 5-11 senior, averages 11.1 points.

Smith believes how well the Panthers play defense may ultimately prove their fate.

"The second time around when we played them some of the other guys hurt us, so there's a fine line because if you focus on those guys, then Loving goes nuts," Smith said. "There has to be a happy medium."

Whitmer 6-1 senior Leroy Alexander has averaged 12.3 points, while Ricardo Smith, a 6-1 senior, is scoring 10 points an outing.

They've helped to take some of the scoring pressure off of Hayes' shoulders, giving the Panthers plenty of offensive balance.

"Obviously, Whitmer is the league champion and we have a lot of respect for them," Heintschel said. "They represent the whole package. They're a complete team."

Central is looking to return to the state tournament after a successful run a year ago that led to a trip to Columbus.

Keith Towbridge, a 6-5 junior, leads the Irish, averaging 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds. Cliff Bussey, a 6-1 junior, and Deontae Cole, a 6-5 junior, averaging about nine points per game.

Southview's Joey Vermilya is averaging 11.1 points. The Cougars (10-12) are 8-2 when injury free. Southview's Joey Vermilya is averaging 11.1 points. The Cougars (10-12) are 8-2 when injury free.
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Nate Harris, who averages 6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, tallied 28 points in a 91-46 sectional final win over Bowsher.

The Cougars' success has been a result of all-around balance with senior forward Allen Gant, who averages 12 points and seven rebounds per game. Joey Vermilya has also been steady, averaging 11.1 points per game, along with Jordan Hunt (9.8) and Chris Johnson (9.1).

Southview's sub-.500 record may not be completely indicative of its season. Southview coach Marc Jump said they're 8-2 when the team has been at full strength and 2-10 when the roster has been hampered by players out with injuries.

The Cougars were at full strength when they claimed a sectional championship by posting a 60-50 victory over Rogers -- a D-II state semifinalist a year ago. Central reached the district semifinals with a 91-46 blowout of Bowsher.

The Cougars, who are playing their best basketball of the season, will face their toughest test, yet.

"They just have to know they're a good basketball team," Jump said.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade



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