Columbus City League on the verge of history

With four teams in regional final games, the Columbus City League is in the midst of one of its best overall seasons in a long and storied history of basketball.

As Northland (Div. I), Walnut Ridge (Div. II), Eastmoor Academy (Div. III) and Africentric (Div. IV) each picked up wins in regional semifinal action this week, the City League has a chance to become the first league in Ohio history to win a regional title in all four divisions, if each team is to win its next game.

That process can begin on Friday as Africentric (20–6) takes on Harvest Prep (23–4) on Friday night at Ohio University for a trip to the Div. IV final four. Falling to Harvest Prep in the regional final a season ago, Africentric is looking to get revenge on a Warrior team the Nubians beat on Dec. 5, 50–39. As Harvest Prep mightily struggled to shoot in that game (the Warriors made just three of 33 attempts from behind-the-arc), Friday’s regional final is sure to be one for the ages.

In Div. II action, Walnut Ridge (20–5) and South (19–7) both played in regional semifinal games on Thursday, with the Scots coming from a 10-point halftime deficit to take down previously undefeated Unioto (26–1), 46–45.

Trailing 45–44 in the final seconds, junior Walnut Ridge forward James Manns scored a game-winning basket with nine seconds remaining, pushing the Scots to its first regional final game since 1971, when Walnut Ridge won its only state title in program history.

Walnut Ridge head coach Brian Shininger (second from left) has enjoyed major success in his first season at the helm of the Scots program

Holding Unioto without a field goal for nearly the final seven minutes, Walnut Ridge overcame a 40–34 deficit after three quarters. Manns would lead the Scots in the win, going for 19 points and eight rebounds, while junior forward Malik Harrison powered the Scots on the interior, adding seven points and a game-high 19 rebounds.

Walnut Ridge advances to take on New Concord John Glenn (24–0) on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ohio University.

South, in a tough matchup against Dayton Dunbar (21–5), would fall behind early, as senior Dunbar guard AJ Harris paced the Wolverines with 20 points. Trailing by double-digits at halftime, South would fall short in the second half, losing its first regional semifinal game since 1986, 72–54.

Despite the loss, South has a ton to be proud about in a 2014–15 season that saw the Bulldogs surpass all expectations for a program that is slowly becoming one of the top five best in all of the City League.

South’s bench looks on during the Bulldogs’ district title contest vs. Johnstown on March 13

In his fifth season at the helm, South alum and head coach Ramon Spears has won 50 games over the last three seasons, amazing considering the Bulldogs won just one game in Spears’ first season in 2010–11.

In Div. III, Eastmoor (16–11) takes on Portsmouth (17–6) in the regional final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Ohio University.

Playing in its first regional final in school history, Eastmoor has relied upon the scoring of senior guard duo Jalon Lewis and Xavier Holston-Sims, as Lewis scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Warriors in a come-from-behind victory over Belmont Union Local (24–3) on Wednesday.

The Warriors will need another major performance out of Lewis, as Eastmoor is looking to advance to the state final four for the first time in program history.

With all of the success the City League South division is having in March, the class of the City League, the Northland Vikings, continue to make the North division proud.

Advancing to its sixth regional final in the last seven years, Northland (22–5) dominated a Dublin Jerome (25–3) team for 32 minutes on Thursday, enjoying a major advantage on the glass in a 64–47 win for the Vikings.

Northland celebrates its come-from-behind district title victory over Gahanna Lincoln. The Vikings trailed by 14 points with just 2:25 remaining.

Playing in the regional finals in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, Northland has been far and away the top program in all of Central Ohio, and possibly the most consistent Div. I program in all of Ohio.

Sustaining major success at the highest level of competition, Northland has been resilient over the years, despite personnel changes on all levels in the program.

Despite the loss of star senior big man Doug Taylor in December, Northland has continued to battle, and is now just one win away from its fourth trip to the state tournament since 2009.

Advancing to Value City Arena in each of the last three “odd years” (2009, 2011, 2013), Northland is looking to benefit from superstition against a Westerville South (25–1) team that is as hot as anyone in the state right now.

Northland and Westerville South will square off for a trip to the Div. I state final four on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

In a basketball league that faces as much scrutiny as any in the state, the Columbus City League has made all of Central Ohio proud this season, especially in a year where many around the area had unusually low expectations.

While the City League has an unreasonable stigma for “poor” coaching and bad fundamental basketball, the five City League teams that won district titles this postseason defied those stereotypes, pulling out clutch victories that relied on everything that tournament success is built upon.

Many student-athletes in the City League face additional challenges that come along with the territory of growing up in the inner city, and I wrote this tonight to show my gratitude and appreciation for every single one of these young men that have battled through adversity both on and off the court.

Regardless of what happens this weekend, all of them are champions in my book.

— Zach Fleer (@ZachFleerLGHL)

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