By Jim Manion | Correspondent
There are over 200 high school teams in each of the four basketball divisions in Ohio. There are only 16 Division IV teams remaining after two weeks of sectional and district competition.
For the third consecutive year, the Windham Bombers are a member of the state's magic Sweet 16 after a thrilling victory in the Warren Division IV District championship game Friday night at Warren Harding High School.
The Bombers put together maybe their best performance of the season in holding off McDonald 87-81 in a contest that got close in the final minutes after Windham held double-digit leads for most of the game.
The victory was the eighth district title for Windham in the last 10 years since Warren Harding became the host of the Division IV tournament. The Bombers will now face powerful Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in the regional semifinals Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
St. Joe rolled past Richmond Heights 67-47 in the Garfield Heights District championship game Friday night.
Veteran Windham coach Marty Hill told his team this week that it would probably have to score in the 80s against McDonald if the Bombers expected to win.
"We did a great job attacking the basket, which is what we really worked on this week. We knew we had to attack their press," said Hill. "Under the circumstances and pressure, I would have to say this is one of the best games we have played."
The Bombers (23-2) came out in a tight man-to-man defense that forced the Blue Devils into 15 first-half turnovers. Windham grabbed a 16-9 advantage at the first-quarter stop with continued sharp passing and transition baskets, getting up and down the floor like a pack of jaguars.
McDonald's first bucket of the contest came when Windham turned the ball over against the Blue Devils' full-court press. It was the only lead McDonald experienced in the game and was the only time the press affected the Bombers in the first half.
Windham pushed its lead to 15 points in the second quarter, but every time it appeared that the Bombers were going to put the game away, the Blue Devils would come back with a big 3-point shot. The Bombers held a 47-33 advantage at the half.
McDonald (19-5) opened the second half by hitting a pair of 3-pointers and got inside a 10-point deficit, but then the Bombers went to work again. Parker Rickey, who scored a career-high 24 points in the win, hit a 3-pointer and then scored on a fastbreak basket courtesy of a Stephen Kacenski full-court pass.
Cameron Pozsgai then scored a pair of buckets in the paint, and before you could blink the Bombers were back up to a 17-point lead at 57-40.
Matt Knight paced the Bombers in the game with 25 points, while Pozsgai finished with 19. Kacenski added 10 points and Jared Taylor scored nine, while Rickey and Pozsgai each had nine rebounds.
Despite Windham leading 67-54 entering the final quarter, the Blue Devils would not go away. Relying on the 3-ball from Matt Seitz and Stephen Politano, McDonald got back in the game, cutting the lead to only eight points inside the three-minute mark.
Seitz canned four treys and scored 22 points in the game, while Politano also hit four 3s and finished with 20 points. Christian Rusinowski finished the night with 21 points for McDonald before fouling out of the game in the final two minutes.
The Blue Devils eventually cut the Windham lead to only three points, 80-77, with 1:19 on the clock.
The teams traded foul shots before Rickey drove hard to the basket to put the Bombers up 83-78. Politano then hit another 3 that cut the lead to just two points, 83-81.
Once again Rickey stepped up for the Bombers, taking a long pass and going hard to the basket to seal the deal for Windham. Knight followed by converting two free throws with only six seconds on the clock for the final 87-81 verdict.
"I thought we really played great as a team, especially at the end when we really came together for the win," said Rickey, who thought it also might have been his best all-around game.
Knight and Pozsgai, who were managers on the 2006 Windham team that made the trip to Columbus for the state tournament, are making their third trip to the Canton Regional. Both contributed as sophomores and juniors and expect more this time as seniors.
"The third time is a charm," grinned a happy Knight after he cut down his piece of the net. "We played great and I think we can beat anybody, but we will have to play the perfect game to beat St. Joe. It's exciting and we are ready."