Centerville wins 45th straight to reach Division I state championship game

Centerville High School senior Rich Rolf dunks the ball against Cleveland St. Ignatius at UD Arena on Saturday, March 19, 2022. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

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Centerville High School senior Rich Rolf dunks the ball against Cleveland St. Ignatius at UD Arena on Saturday, March 19, 2022. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

Elks maul Cleveland St. Ignatius 64-33 in semifinal

From the moment he stepped on the UD Arena floor Saturday night to warm up, Centerville’s Gabe Cupps heard the heckling from the Cleveland St. Ignatius student section.

“That’s something I’ve embraced,” Cupps said. “I don’t really pay any attention to it.”

His team – regardless of its 45-game winning streak – likewise embraces every moment together and pays attention to every detail that makes them better. When the expectations are heaped upon them, they embrace each other and are faithful to the process that head coach Brook Cupps demands they follow.

“We came out and played with an intensity and an edge that we needed,” Brook Cupps said. “Our guys did a really good job of just staying in their role and playing for each other. That’s what we want Centerville basketball to look like.”

ExplorePHOTOS: Centerville tops St. Ignatius

From the opening minutes through a 16-point halftime lead and a 35-point start-the-running clock lead in the fourth quarter, the Elks’ process revealed everything they do well in their 64-33 semifinal victory over St. Ignatius, continuing their drive toward a possible second straight Division I championship.

There’s one final step toward the elite status of trying to become the 22nd team in state history to win two straight (three have won three straight) championships. The Elks (29-0) face Pickerington Central (25-2) at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Pick Central rolled past Lakewood St. Edward 74-42 on Saturday. Last year the Elks defeated Westerville Central 43-42 to win their first state title in their first state appearance.

On Saturday, Cupps scored 15 points, had four assists and ran his team with precision. No doubt the announcement Friday that he had been named Mr. OHSBCA – that’s the Mr. Basketball award given by the state coaches – had something to do with the student section’s attempt at intimidation. Cupps is also a candidate to win the more well-known Mr. Basketball award voted on by the news media.

Brook Cupps’ wife heard the news first about the award and texted him so he could tell Gabe before he heard it from someone else. As the father tried to tell his son, he noticed Gabe was crying. He asked him why. Gabe told him it was because he had just practiced for the last time with the seniors.

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Centerville High School junior Gabe Cupps drives past Cleveland St. Ignatius' Carter Jackson during their game against Cleveland St. Ignatius on Saturday night at UD Arena. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Name Test

Centerville High School junior Gabe Cupps drives past Cleveland St. Ignatius' Carter Jackson during their game against Cleveland St. Ignatius on Saturday night at UD Arena. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Name Test

Combined ShapeCaption
Centerville High School junior Gabe Cupps drives past Cleveland St. Ignatius' Carter Jackson during their game against Cleveland St. Ignatius on Saturday night at UD Arena. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Name Test

Credit: Name Test

“It’s something I’m grateful for, but it was never the goal,” Gabe Cupps said of the award. “I thought back to all the work that I’ve put in and how grateful I am to have these guys around me.”

Those guys played with their usual team effort on both ends. Tom House scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half in a bounce back from how he shot in the regional tournament.

“If he sees one go in, I think that helps his game a lot,” Cupps said. “And we want his confidence at an all- time high, especially going into the state championship.”

Rich Rolf scored 12 points and kickstarted the Elks with two early 3-pointers. The Elks kept shooting well, carrying a 60% rate well into the second half. They finished at 54.3% and made 7 of 18 3-pointers. Their defense was in lockdown mode, holding the Wildcats to 32.5% and only 1 of 11 on 3-pointers.

“We were really solid defensively and made it tough for them to get good looks,” Brook Cupps said.

Pick Central will present a more athletic challenge to the Elks. The Tigers are led by 6-foot-6 junior Devin Royal, who scored 19 points Saturday. Royal has several high-level Division I offers. The best athlete on the floor will be 6-4 senior Sonny Styles, the five-start football recruit headed for Ohio State.

“They’re super talented and they’ve got a lot of guys that can hurt you,” Brook Cupps said. “It’ll be a great game, but that’s what it’s supposed to be when you play in the state championship game.”

And Gabe Cupps will be ready for anything the opposing students try, but he might not notice. Early in the second half with the Elks leading by 19, the St. Ignatius students started chanting, “Gabe Cupps sucks.”

“If they want to talk bad about me, it’s all right,” he said. “I’ll just go play my game.”

And he did. In that moment he drove the lane and dunked over and on an Ignatius player, and the Centerville student section erupted with its loudest cheers of the night.

Cupps said he didn’t hear the derogatory chant. He just saw an opening and embraced the moment.

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