By Jeff Rapp, SportsRappUp.com / Photo by ESP Media
CINCINNATI ARCHBISHOP MOELLER CRUSADERS (27-0)
Coach Carl Kremer and his familiar blue sweater vest are headed back to the state tournament. This time, he'll bring an undefeated Moeller squad that has held teams in the low 40s in scoring average and has handled every style of play it has faced. A program known for toughness, clutch pay and versatile forwards - anyone remember Matt Sylvester, Bobby Brannen or Josh Duncan? - Moeller is led by a similar player in 6-5 senior Keegan McDowell (13.3 points per game). Sophomore guard Miles McBride adds 10.7 ppg while the team's other starters all average at least 7.0 ppg. Winners of 18 of the last 23 Greater Catholic League titles, the Crusaders are as tradition-rich as any program in southern Ohio yet have never posted an undefeated season. A hard-fought 38-32 win over Cincinnati LaSalle in the regional final was Moeller's third straight this season against a Lancers team that finished 24-4. Kremer and the Crusaders seem to like odd-numbered years. They won state titles in 1999, 2003 and 2007. If Moeller is able to defeat Pickerington Central and would end up facing Massillon Jackson in the D-I final, it would set up a rematch of the 2010 championship game.
PICKERINGTON CENTRAL TIGERS (26-2)
There was a lot of symbolism in the heartfelt postgame hug between Jerry Francis and his son, Jeremiah, after Pickerington Central dispatched crosstown rival Pickerington North in the regional final staged at packed-in Ohio Dominican University Saturday night. Jerry helped Columbus Wehrle become an area superpower in the 1980s before playing at Ohio State, coaching at the collegiate level and, later, at Pick Central. A 6-2 sophomore who is finding his own spotlight, Jeremiah has taken that mojo and now has the goods to take the Tigers all the way. The younger Francis was just named the OCC Ohio Player of the Year but he has a lot of help, starting with 6-11 center Sterling Manley. A North Carolina signee, Manley has overcome a broken leg suffered last year in time to average 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a senior. Francis checks in at 15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.1 assists per game. Forward Adrian Nelson, a 6-6 junior, is another option and potential game-turner on defense. Jerry Francis coached the Tigers to the 2012 state title with the likes of Jae'Sean Tate, Caris LeVert and Taco Charlton. Coach Eric Krueger will try to make it two crowns in six years for Central.
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