Wilmington scrimmaged Centerville prior to the start of the 2015-16 basketball season.
At Xavier University’s Cintas Center 7 p.m. Saturday night, the stakes will be much higher as the two teams meet again in the Div. I Cincinnati Regional championship game. The winner advances to the state Final Four.
“They’ve just continued to get better from when we saw them the first weekend in November,” Centerville head coach Brook Cupps said.
Cupps, like WHS head coach Michael Noszka, says this is not a matchup many people envisioned when the teams met four months ago.
“We realize we’re the underdog and the team that wasn’t expected to be here,” said Cupps.
But the veteran coach in his fourth year at CHS says don’t overlook his Elks.
“This group is definitely playing its best basketball of the season,” said Cupps. “We’ve lost 10 games to some pretty good teams. There is no doubt that each of those losses has helped us get to where we are now.”
Centerville’s losses have been to Moeller, Trotwood-Madison, Kettering Alter, Northmont (twice), Huber Heights Wayne (twice) and Fairfield among Ohio teams and Miller Grove, Ga. and East Chicago Central among out of state teams.
Centerville defeated Springfield twice during the regular season and has won five consecutive post-season games, including a 58-38 win over Cin. LaSalle in the district title game.
Injuries have played a part in the Elks season. Sam Lash has “just recently the last 5-6 games started to play at the level we thought he was capable of prior to his injury,” said Cupps. Kyle Fedewa has played in 16 of 27 games this season, battling a broken nose, a dislocated shoulder and an achy ankle, the CHS coach pointed out.
The team had its current starting lineup together for the first time in the regular season finale against Wayne, then ranked No. 1 in the state. The Elks lost 61-47.
“The injuries created more than the obvious challenges,” Cupps said. “One of the more significant challenges has been getting guys accustomed to their roles with everyone healthy. We’ve had a lot of guys step up throughout the year and lost some games as we tried to figure out what we each need to do to help the team, but the last few weeks everyone has really shown and incredible amount of trust and passion for the team.”
For the season to continue, Cupps believes his squad will have to do a lot of things well Saturday night.
“There are a lot of things we need to do well in order to have a shot – transition defense, rebound, take care of the ball … our guys know all that stuff,” said Cupps. “But we don’t have a magic formula or secret recipe. We will do what we do. We’re going to sit down and guard. We’re going to take good shots. We’re going to fight on the boards. We’re going to chase every loose ball. We’re going to play with passion for the game and for each other. We trust the work we’ve put in. From that point, we’ll surrender the outcome – whatever happens, happens.”
And, as he said, his squad is accepting the role of underdog to the 26-1 Hurricane.
“Wilmington is a great team,” said Cupps. “Well coached with tough kids that work hard, defend and take good shots offensively. That’s a pretty good combination, then you add in a player like (Jarron) Cumberland and you have a team with a legitimate shot at winning the state title. Cumberland is an incredible high school player, so tough to handle because of his size and skill set, but his IQ and competitiveness is really what sets him apart. The most impressive aspect of Wilmington to me is how well the coaching staff has gotten everyone on the team to buy into their role.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.