Looks can be deceiving.
A quick glance at the Central District tournament results would make you think Delaware County’s boys basketball teams, collectively, had a down year.
And nobody would blame you. Of the eight local teams, none got as far as a district championship game. Heck, of the eight, Delaware Hayes was the only team to even win a tourney game. That’s right, the county, between Hayes, Liberty, Orange and Olentangy in Division I, Big Walnut and Buckeye Valley in Division II and Delaware Christian and Village Academy in Division III, was a combined 2-8 in postseason play.
A closer look at the tourney, though, shows just how competitive the county, specifically Hayes and Liberty, really was.
Of the final four teams left in the D-I tournament, Upper Arlington and Cleveland East Technical, who have a combined four losses, were beaten by the Patriots and Pacers.
Liberty, which plays in the OCC-Central Division with UA, very nearly beat the Golden Bears twice. The first contest, a 34-31 Liberty win in the second game of the season, is still the only loss Upper Arlington (26-1) has had all year. Law Jones drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to decide things. The teams’ second showdown, meanwhile, was just as close, with the Patriots blowing a late fourth-quarter lead en route to a 36-34 setback in late January.
Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said the key to beating the Bears is slowing down All-Ohio standout Kevin Vannatta, a 19 points-per-game scorer. The Patriots held him to just four points in their win.
“He’s the key,” Nossaman said. “He provides matchup problems because he can shoot the three and score in the post. He’s a tough guy to guard and can score in a bunch of different ways at any given time. They have a good bench, too, with nice role players and tough kids. I’ve seen them play a lot during the tournament. They handle pressure well and play great defense. I like the way they play.
“I think they got better as the season went on,” he added. “Their roles became more defined and they are playing really well right now.”
In addition to Jones’ heroics, Liberty senior Mike DeLeon played well in the win over UA, pouring in a game-high 12 points.
Upper Arlington will play Trotwood-Madison (25-2) in the second of two state semifinals Friday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
The other semi will feature Lakewood St. Edward (24-2) and East Technical (24-3) — a team Hayes beat 63-59 the Monday before Christmas at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Tyler Treese hit a pair of fourth-quarter three-pointers, Noble Moore hit one of his own and Phil Frentsos connected on a pair of pressure-packed free throws with 16 seconds left to propel the Pacers.
The loss, one which Hayes coach Jordan Blackburn credited to his team’s defense, was East Tech’s first of the season.
“We changed up the defenses a little bit throughout the game,” Blackburn said, “and I think that made them uncomfortable.”
East tech averaged 86 points a game entering the showdown, managing less than 60 in the setback.
Khalil Iverson had 17 points in the win while Moore finished 15 and Treese 10.