MOUNT VERNON — Several area boys basketball teams will be calling Knox County home when the postseason begins in two weeks. Five teams will be playing their first games in Mount Vernon, while another (Utica) will be playing in Centerburg. Four other area teams, including Mount Vernon, will travel to the Columbus suburbs for their first-round games.
The Yellow Jackets, the area’s only Division I team, were seeded 11th overall in the Central District. With a 12-5 mark in a competitive district, which includes defending state champion Newark, and one-loss teams Dublin Scioto and Northland, Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman knew it would be a tough draw.
“I think according to our record, (our seed) was about right,” said Kaufman. “That’s kind of where we saw ourselves. ... The Central District is probably the toughest district in the state in Division I. You’ve got to take it one game at a time and not look ahead.”
Mount Vernon will play a first-round game in the upper bracket. The Jackets will face No. 23-seed Thomas Worthington on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. at New Albany High School. With a win, they would advance to play the winner of No. 12 Westerville Central and No. 27 Pickerington Central on Saturday, Feb. 28. That game would also be played at 8 p.m. at New Albany.
“We went into that spot because it was an open spot and I don’t know why they chose us,” Kaufman said. “We’ve got to find out as much as we can about them and get ready to play. I know they’ve got a rich history.”
Grove City, the No. 3 seed, is the top seeded team in Mount Vernon’s bracket, which also includes No. 5 Dublin Coffman, No. 6 Beechcroft, and Westerville Central. Also among the teams are perennial powers Hilliard Darby and Brookhaven, seeded No. 29 and No. 15, respectively.
“There are no easy games at this point,” said Kaufman. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time, and try to do what we do best.”
In Division II, the Utica Redskins and Clear Fork Colts face tough challenges. Utica, playing in the Central District, was seeded 13th. They will face No. 16 Licking Valley in a first-round matchup on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 6:15 p.m. at Centerburg High School. The winner advances to face fifth-seeded Olentangy Orange on Saturday, Feb. 28. That game will also be played at Centerburg at 6:15 p.m.
Utica (8-8) fell to host Licking Valley in a nonconference game on Dec. 20, 54-46.
Clear Fork, playing in the Northwest District, will face a familiar foe. The Colts (5-10) drew rival No. 2 seed Lexington in the first round. The two teams will play on Wednesday, March 4, at 6:15 p.m. at Mansfield Senior High School.
Clear Fork, which beat the Minutemen at home, 59-50, on Jan. 16, will see them once more before the tournament begins. The two, members of the Ohio Cardinal Conference, are scheduled to play in Lexington on Feb. 20.
Highland was the big winner in Division III Central District, earning the No. 3 seed. As a result, the Scots got to choose where they went on the bracket, which was away from No. 1 seed Bishop Hartley. Highland, playing in the lower bracket, also chose a first-round bye.
“I am honestly a little surprised (with our seed),” said Highland coach Mike Hoyng. “I thought that Grandview (Heights), Pleasant and us were all about the same. I appreciate the votes we got, but I felt all three of us were in the same kind of picture. I would say I was pleasantly surprised we were No. 3.
“The No. 1 reason we took a bye this year, and many years we don’t, was because we finish the season by playing seven games in 15 day. I felt like we really needed to take a couple of days off at the end of the season and regroup. If we would have gone in and played right away, we would have played on either Tuesday or Wednesday after coming off the seven games, and I didn’t think that was a very wise move. Because of the nature of how our schedule finishes this year, I just thought we needed a bye if we could get one.”
The Scots (11-2) could end up playing rival Centerburg, the No. 7 seed, as the Trojans (12-5) face 18th-seeded West Jefferson in a first-round game on Wednesday, Feb. 25. If the Trojans win the 6:15 p.m. game at Mount Vernon, they would advance to face the Scots.
“It is about where I thought we would get,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson of his seeding. “I expected us to be between six and eight. ... We don’t know much about (West Jefferson). We haven’t seen them play at any time, so we are going to have to go scout them and find out.”
For Highland, a matchup with Centerburg may be less than ideal, but nevertheless, Hoyng will have his team ready to play.
“I honestly felt this year that, with as many quality teams as there is in Division III, there was not going to be an easy game,” said Hoyng. “Maybe if you got lucky and were the top seed, you would get a first-round game that wasn’t real strong, but I’ve felt all season long — and I still feel this way — starting with the second round of sectionals through districts that there isn’t any easy games. To win our district, you are going to have to play three strong games.”
Highland and Centerburg met up earlier this season. Host Highland jumped out to a big lead in that game, but had to hold off a Centerburg comeback, and posted a 53-50 win on Jan. 31. The Trojans have lost three in a row including that game.
“No matter who we would have to play in the second round, it was going to be a tough game,” said Simpson. “I don’t care if it was Highland or whoever. The second-round people are all tough.. It really didn’t make a difference where we went. I just didn’t want to go in the upper bracket with Hartley and some of those schools. It was just one of those situations of no matter where we put ourselves, we would face a tough opponent. This is just the way it fell out.”
Four other area teams were seeded in the district, and two of those will square off for their postseason lives. No. 16 Fredericktown plays no. 15 Northridge at Mount Vernon High School in a first-round game on Tuesday, Feb. 24. The winner of the game, which will be played at 6:15 p.m., advances to face Heath on Friday, Feb. 27, at 6:15 p.m. at Gahanna Lincoln High School.
The two Mid-Buckeye Conference schools split their regular season games, with each winning on the road. Fredericktown (6-10) defeated Northridge, 38-31, on Dec. 12, and the Vikings (7-9) edged the Freddies, 43-39, on Jan. 23.
No. 19 Johnstown will follow the Freddies and Vikings on Tuesday, Feb. 24, taking on 20th-seed Mount Gilead at 8 p.m. A win would advance the Johnnies (6-9) to a second-round date with Hartley on Friday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m., also at Gahanna.
No. 23 East Knox (3-12), the area’s other Division III Central District squad, faces a tough first-round task in 12th-seeded Columbus Academy. The two school meet on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. at Gahanna. The winner will advance to face either No. 8 seed Bloom-Carroll or Northmor on Saturday, Feb. 28, in the 8 p.m. game at Dublin Scioto High School.
In Division III Northwest District play, Loudonville was seeded fourth and will play No. 8 Hillsdale in the first round on Tuesday, March 3. The Redbirds will play at Wooster High School at 7:30 p.m. With a victory, Loudonville would advance to play Norwayne in the second round on Saturday, March 7, at 7 p.m., also at Wooster.
Danville and Mount Vernon Academy each face a tough task in Division IV. Danville (7-10) will face No. 7 seed Wellington in the second round after a bye. That game will be played on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 6:15 p.m. at Delaware High School. Immediately following that contest at 8 p.m., Mount Vernon Academy will face the winner of No. 1 seed Newark Catholic and Delaware Christian.
The winners of the two second round games will face off at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in the Central District semifinal on March 10.