Troy Christian wins 2nd straight district title, Lehman falls to Jackson Center


By Bryant Billing

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DAYTON — Troy Christian succeeded in its goal of winning a district title for the second straight year. Now the Eagles will try to do what they couldn’t last year: earn a regional title.

Troy Christian controlled things from the start and beat Miami Valley Christian 58-32 in a Division IV district final on Saturday at UD Arena. The squad advances to face Jackson Center in a regional semifinal on Tuesday evening at Trent Arena in Kettering.

“The kids were really locked in defensively,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “We struggled a little early offensively, but when you play hard-nosed defense like we do, it can carry you through those situations, and I thought we did an excellent job of setting the tone early.”

In order to advance to state, the Eagles will likely need to beat two Shelby County Athletic League teams. Russia (25-1), which was ranked No. 2 in the final D-IV state Associated Press poll of the season, is the heavy favorite Tuesday’s other regional semifinal.

“My Achilles’ heel since I’ve been at Troy Christian is Shelby County League teams,” Zawadzki said. “We’ve been making changes to our program and our culture trying to get better, and we’ll have to face two if we want to get to our goal we set early in the year.

“Jackson Center is going to be well-coached and very disciplined , and they’re going to play hard. I expect it to be a very competitive basketball game.

“… We’re 42-3 in the last 45 games, and two of those losses are to Russia. Those are facts, and things that are pushing these kids to continually get better each day. We knew the challenges were going to keep getting more and more difficult. We’re excited about it.”

The Eagles (24-2), which were ranked No. 4 in the final D-IV AP poll of the season, have won 12 consecutive games since losing to Tri-Village two days after Christmas.

“The confidence and the bonding we do off the court I think helps a lot with this team,” Troy Christian senior guard Parker Penrod, who scored a game-high 22 points, said. “We’re all brothers. We’re all growing together in Christ, growing together on the court as well. We’re just gelling great right now.”

Troy Christian advanced to a regional for the first time in nine years last season. The Eagles fell behind 10 points against Russia by the end of the first quarter but pulled within one point in the fourth quarter.

“I think we all were a little star struck at the beginning of it,” Penrod said. “Obviously going down 22-9, that’s not how you want to start a regional game. But I think this year we’re coming in more confident and experienced. Heavy seniors on this team, so we’re ready for the battle.”

Troy Christian started slow in the first few minutes on Saturday but built a 13-6 lead by the end of the first quarter, then used an 18-4 scoring advantage in the second to pull out to a 31-10 halftime lead. Penrod scored 15 points in the first half.

“We started out a little rough, not to our usual standard, but we kept our heads down, did what we had to do,” Penrod said. “It started on the defensive end. When we only allow 10 points in the half, there’s not much teams can do to beat us. When we play defense like that, we’re at our best.”

The Lions scored seven straight points in the third quarter and pulled as close as 15, but Troy Christian pushed the lead to 42-22 by the end of the third, then finished with a 16-10 edge in the fourth.

“It’s tournament time, and like we talk about all the time, you’ve got to play 32 to earn 32,” Zawadzki said. “We didn’t play a few minutes, so we had to call a timeout and get us back in line, focused on what our purpose is and our mission.”

Penrod, who was named TRC player of the year, brought down five rebounds and had five assists.

“He’s a special kid, and the funny thing is, we have to encourage him to be more aggressive offensively sometimes, not to a fault, but to sometimes take it to the next level,” Zawadzki said. “Without him, this program wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

Alex Free scored eight points and had five rebounds and four steals, Frank Rupnik scored seven points and had nine rebounds and Christian Brusman scored seven points and had four assists.

“It’s our goal to be an equal opportunity offense, share the ball and be unselfish, find the open man and trust that whoever is open is going to knock it down,” Zawadzki said. “That has worked very well for this group. We don’t deal with any selfishness, and it makes it fun to coach them.”

The Eagles shot 21 for 50 (42 percent) from the floor and had a 38-26 rebounding edge.

Troy Christian beat Jackson Center (17-9) by seven points in a nonconference game on Jan. 6.

“Super excited to play them again,” Penrod said. “They’re obviously a great defensive team. They’re super aggressive, physical. It will be a good test for us.”

Jackson Center 48, Lehman Catholic 41

The Cavaliers couldn’t quite pull another big comeback in a district final on Saturday at UD Arena.

Lehman Catholic finishes 18-7 overall. The squad advanced to its first district final since 2011.

“We had an incredible season,” Lehman Catholic coach Pat Carlisle said. “You want to win one more game, but everything the team accomplished throughout, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We lost to a very good team. If your season’s going to end, it’s not a bad way, to a really good team at UD Arena.”

The Cavaliers will lose two seniors to graduation: Donovan O’Leary and Seth Kennedy. O’Leary was a second team all-Southwest district selection in D-IV and was a first team all-TRC selection.

“Donovan will end with one of the greatest Lehman Catholic careers ever, if not the best,” Carlisle said. “Most all-time wins, went over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds. Seth Kennedy, an absolute joy to have around the team from a leadership point of view. We got better having both of them around. This year, Seth coming back out helped the cause.”

Jackson Center will face a second consecutive Three Rivers Conference team in a postseason game it takes on Troy Christian.

Troy Christian beat the Tigers 42-35 in Jackson Center on Jan. 6. Penrod scored 14 points in the win; he surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season.

“Parker Penrod is a heck of a good player, but they have a lot of pieces around him,” Jackson Center coach Aaron Klopfenstein said. “It’s not just Penrod. It’s about controlling everyone, not just him, but all those other guys.”

The teams traded baskets early on Saturday, but Jackson Center scored 10 straight points to push its lead to 21-6 early in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers, which rallied from a 23-5 deficit to beat Southeastern in a sectional final, shot better in the second quarter and cut the gap to 26-19 at halftime.

Lehman started the third quarter well and pulled within 32-29, but Jackson Center pulled out to a 39-29 by the end of the quarter and pushed its lead to 14 before the Cavaliers scored the last seven points.

Lehman accumulated fouls late as it tried to rally, and the Tigers hit 8-of-14 foul shots in the second half to help solidify the win.

“We had to start going for some, and give them credit, they have great players,” Carlisle said. “They attack the glass like hyenas. They got a lot of offensive rebounds tonight.”

Lucas Hartle led Jackson Center with 18 points, 11 of which came in the first half; he also had six rebounds and two blocks. Reed Platfoot scored 12 and Lucas Heitkamp scored nine. Platfoot had nine rebounds and Heitkamp and Trever Huber each brought down seven.

The Tigers had a 36-22 rebounding edge and scored 14 points on second-chance looks, while the Cavaliers scored two points on second-chance opportunities.

O’Leary led Lehman with 11 points and nine rebounds. Shane Frantz scored eight points.

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