By DAVE HANNEMAN
Bragging rights are always on the line when Ottawa-Glandorf and Lima Central Catholic get together.
This time of year, there’s sought-after hardware at stake as well.
For the fifth straight year, O-G and LCC will square off in tournament play when the Titans (16-10) and Thunderbirds (22-4) clash at 7 p.m. today in a Division III boys regional final at Bowling Green State University.
The winners will get their medals, hoist the regional championship trophy and look ahead to next week’s Division III state semifinal at Ohio State University. The losers will take their regional runner-up trophy and put it and another year’s worth of memories in the trophy case.
Both teams can relate to that experience.
Ottawa-Glandorf and LCC have been tipping it off in regular-season matchups for decades. That’s just for bragging rights, and over the past decade it’s split right down the middle, 5-5.
It’s the postseason battles that have become classic. In some cases, it’s been winner take all.
Ottawa-Glandorf beat Lima Central Catholic 70-68 during the 2009-2010 regular season. LCC avenged that loss by beating the Titans 48-40 in the district final, then went on to win the Division III state title.
Last season, LCC won the regular-season contest, 51-48. Two months later, O-G won the rematch in the regional semifinals, 60-52, then won a Division III state title as well.
Ottawa-Glandorf used a 44-38 win over LCC in the 2012 regional final to punch its ticket to state that season, and beat the T-Birds 56-54 in the district final the year before that.
Despite O-G’s edge in recent tournament play and the mantle of reigning state champion, LCC enters the regional championship game a heavy favorite. The T-Birds have just one senior, Martyce Kimbrough, in the starting lineup. But the collective talents of sophomores Xavier Simpson, Tre Cobbs and Dantez Walton fuel an explosive offense that has averaged 74.8 points in tournament play and created a margin of victory of 32.8 points in four postseason games.
Kimbrough, who will play college ball for the University of Indianapolis, averages 19 points a game, topped the 1,000-point career mark in Thursday’s 64-37 regional semifinal romp over Worthington Christian and is on the verge of breaking the school record for 3-pointers in a season (85). Simpson, one of the top-ranked point guards in Ohio’s sophomore class, averages 18.5 points and 5.7 assists.
Kimbrough scored 18 points, Simpson 14 and Cobbs 13 in Thursday’s win. None of the three played more than 24 minutes.
“We understand LCC is a very, very good team, and every time we play them it’s a heck of a game,” said Ottawa-Glandorf coach Tyson McGlaughlin.
McGlaughlin, who had to replace four starters and eight seniors from last year’s state championship team, admits O-G’s “game” has been a work in progress. The Titans started the regular season 3-3 and ended it with three straight losses. But something in O-G’s tournament psyche seems to click when March rolls around.
“I think a lot of it has to do with chemistry,” McGlaughlin said. “At the beginning of the year, we had a lot of pieces we had to put together. But our guys have only gotten better. We did lose our last three games, but two of those losses were to Perrysburg (21-4, Division I district semifinals) and Lima Bath (21-4, Division II regional final). Those are two very, very good teams and we were right with both of them with about two minutes to go.
“Physically, we were playing hard enough. Mentally, we were making miscues. We kept telling the guys, ‘We’re right there. We’re right there.’ But like anything else, you can only say that so many times. You need to see some results, and we’ve had the opportunity to get some close wins, build some confidence and get those results.
“I can just see it now when I look in their eyes. They are different kids right now than they were when we started.”
Ottawa-Glandorf’s turn-around was manifested in Thursday’s 63-45 win over Huron. After overcoming 6-point second-half deficits to notch district wins over Archbold (53-46) and Paulding (36-32), the Titans jumped on top early and maintained an 8- to 10-point cushion the rest of the way.
“I thought we played real well defensively. One thing our guys are doing a good job of right now is picking up new adjustments (on defense),” McGlaughlin said. “Offensively, we had a couple of transition baskets and our confidence really elevated. When you can hit a couple of shots, it’s amazing how that confidence level skyrockets.”
Then again, March always does seem to bring out the best in O-G basketball.
“Our guys are going to be ready to play,” said McGlaughlin, an all-Ohio player and later an assistant at O-G before being named head coach before the 2011-12 season.
“We’re playing for a regional title. If you’re playing for a regional title you’re doing something good, so we’re going to stick to our game plan, play our game and see what happens.”
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