Centerville, Fairmont advance to set up third meeting this season

VANDALIA — High school basketball teams rarely face the challenge of having only two days to get ready for their next opponent. Centerville and Fairmont will meet for the third time this season at 4 p.m Saturday fewer than 48 hours after their victories on Thursday.

Time is not a factor in this Greater Western Ohio Conference rivalry. The head coaches — Centerville’s Brook Cupps and Fairmont’s Kenny Molz — would be hard-pressed to put anything into the game plan that the other couldn’t see coming. And the players know each other’s moves and tendencies.

After No. 1 seed Centerville blew out No. 20 Xenia 70-20 and No. 6 Fairmont treated No. 8 Stebbins in a similar fashion, 60-21, the rivals could fully turn their attention to each other. The winner advances to the Division I district finals on March 10 at Xavier’s Cintas Center.

Fairmont turned heads on Dece. 28 when it went to Centerville and Evan Gentile scored 26 points to lead a 62-52 victory that ended the Elks’ 43-game GWOC winning streak. On Feb. 2 at Fairmont, Baboucarr Njie made a last-second, off-balance 3-pointer for a 62-61 Centerville victory.

“I would expect nothing but the same exact thing the next time we play,” Cupps said. “It seems like we tend to bring out the best in them.”

On Thursday it was clear neither team was looking ahead. Centerville (15-8) blitzed Xenia from the start and led 32-2 after the first quarter. The Elks have played many early-round opponents like Xenia in recent years.

“It’s part of the reason we don’t ever talk about other teams or winning anything,” Cupps said. “It’s just trying to play at our level. And I know it sounds simple, but it’s really hard to do consistently.”

Centerville’s desire to play hard no matter the score showed up most obviously with 5:02 to play in the first half. Eli Greenberg dove through the Xenia bench, taking a folding chair with him, in an attempt to save a turnover. The ball went to Xenia, but Greenberg earned hustle points.

“I saw the ball going out of bounds, and I had to dive for it,” Greenberg said. “That’s our philosophy.”

The Elks led 50-8 at halftime. The lead reached 35 points 5:34 left in the half, but the running clock rule doesn’t go into effect until the second half. Greenberg had 16 points and Jonathan Powell 15 in the half. Cupps kept all of his starters on the bench the entire second half, and the lead grew by eight points.

Powell and Njie were the only returning Elks with significant varsity experience, so players like Greenberg, his twin Ethan Greenberg and Jamar Montgomery had to learn what 100% effort and focus 100% of the time meant at the varsity level. Cupps said his team hasn’t embraced that mentality at all times, but he likes the progress he is seeing.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at it,” Greenberg said. “But for me it’s just trusting our guys, especially the guys that have played varsity. They’re going to lead us.”

Fairmont (15-9) didn’t get a running clock until the fourth quarter. Stebbins (15-9) offered more resistance than Xenia (4-19). A 17-0 run in the second quarter pushed the Firebirds to a 30-10 halftime lead. Evan Gentile scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half, and Brock Baker made two first-half 3-pointers and finished with 10.

Neither coach likes to play a league foe for a third time in the tournament, but it’s almost impossible to avoid another GWOC team this side of regionals.

“It’s tough for both teams,” Cupps said. “We know them, they know us. It’s a matter of execution.”

Molz’s emphasis with his team, especially after going through a five-game losing streak in the second half of the season, has been four primaries: defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball and working for good shots. He gives his team credit for the way it has bounced back to play well after poor performances.

“You get to a sectional final and beyond anybody can beat anybody,” Molz said. “It usually comes down to the execution and who hurts themselves more than it is the other team is better.”

On Saturday, for both teams, the season depends on it.

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