VANDALIA – The expectation, the mission, the dream needed to be rescued.
Chaminade Julienne, the No. 2 team in the state with plans all season to play at UD Arena this weekend, trailed archrival Alter by eight points with three and a half minutes left in the Division II region final.
“We just had to dig down to who we are and be us to the end,’ said CJ senior guard and team leader George Washington III, who scored half of his 32 points in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles followed their leader. They made defensive stops, made free throws, made big shots and made it to state with a closing 17-4 run for a 64-59 victory at Butler High School in the first region final meeting between the historic rivals.
“We knew all year we had this potential, but there’s a lot of teams with that potential,” CJ coach Charlie Szabo said. “Only four teams get to go and there’s more than four great teams in the state. So to actually be one of those four, you never take it for granted. It’s all the hard work these guys have put in, and it takes some breaks to get here, but it always takes breaks to get here.”
CJ’s second state trip in three years and ninth in program history commences at 10:45 a.m. Friday against Rocky River Lutheran West (24-3) at UD Arena. Columbus Bishop Ready (28-0) faces Akron Buchtel (21-6) at 2 p.m. The final is Sunday morning at 10:45.
Alter (20-8} took the lead with the first basket of the second half and led until late doing what head coach Eric Coulter wanted. The Knights controlled tempo and got to the rim for lots of layups by spacing the Eagles’ defense out.
CJ, however, began to rally from a 55-47 deficit with two Evan Dickey free throws with 3:26 left. Then Washington III scored on a difficult driving shot and made two free throws 21 seconds later to slice the Alter lead to 55-53.
Alter responded out of a timeout on a backdoor layup by Gavin Geisel with 1:53 left to lead 57-53. But Washington III made a long 3-pointer, the Knights committed a turnover and Washington III found his brother B.B. Washington open for a 3-pointer that put the Eagles up 59-57 with 48 seconds left. They closed it out with five free throws.
“If you’re a big-time player, which he [Washington III] is and his brother, you make plays and that’s what they did,” Coulter said. “We’re extending our zone, and he’s still going one on two with guys all over him and still making shots.”
B.B. Washington’s 3-pointer that put CJ ahead didn’t surprise his older brother.
“I already knew,” Washington III said of when the pass left his hands. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the gym and I’ve seen that shot go in. He’s been like this for a long time, and I’m glad everyone’s getting to see it now.”
B.B. Washington wasn’t surprised either.
“That’s what I work for, all the work I put in in the gym by myself,” he said. “I knew if I was getting the ball it was going in.”
For Alter, Anthony Ruffolo was the guy who almost every time he found a driving lane the ball was going in. He scored 23 points in his final game.
“It was an incredible game,” he said. “If you’re going to go out on a game, that’s not a bad one to end on. They’re an incredible team with some great players, and they just hit shots down the stretch. We missed free throws, and it came down to that.”
The Eagles got a lot of contributions on both ends. B.B. Washington scored 14 points. Dickey and Cal Weatherspoon scored eight apiece, and Dickey had to guard Ruffolo.
“This was personal for me,” said Dickey who was a sophomore starter and role player when the Eagles went to state in 2021. “I almost cried at the end of this game. I have so much of a bigger role. I’m just loving this one.”
Washington III, however, played at a different level as usual. The Michigan signee made four 3-pointers and 14 of 15 free-throw attempts, and when he couldn’t get off a good shot, he often found the open man.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the best thing in the world to have a guy like that as a coach,” Szabo said. “He’s hit big shots all year. He’s hit big shots his whole career. He wants the ball in that moment.”
And the Eagles needed him in the season’s most crucial moment.
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