Defending state champion Centerville upset in title game

Centerville High School junior Gabe Cupps drives past Pickerington Central junior Devin Royal during the Division I state championship game on Sunday night at UD Arena. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

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Centerville High School junior Gabe Cupps drives past Pickerington Central junior Devin Royal during the Division I state championship game on Sunday night at UD Arena. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

Elks’ 45-game winning streak ends with 55-48 loss to Pickerington Central

Centerville hadn’t felt the pain of loss for 45 games. On Sunday night at UD Arena, it was as painful as ever.

Pickerington Central was responsible for that pain, shooting 60% and holding onto a lead in the second half that the Elks seemed destined to take after a furious rally to close the third quarter. Because for 45 straight games, whenever they trailed, they always won.

But a second straight state title for the Elks wasn’t meant to be. Pick Central kept the lead and celebrated a 55-48 victory and their second state title.

ExplorePHOTOS: Centerville vs. Pickerington Central

The Elks (29-1) are 55-4 over the past two seasons. As was said during the postgame trophy ceremony, this group of players put Centerville on the map. When they won state last year it was the program’s first trip to the state tournament.

“I’m going to try to remind them that it’s easy to focus on this game and discount all the great things that they’ve done over the last two years, especially the seniors,” Elks coach Brook Cupps said on the floor after the game before meeting with his team in locker room. “We just need to acknowledge and recognize what they’ve done. Pick Central beat us, and that’s the way it goes.”

The shooting percentages tell most of the story. Centerville shot 40% overall and made only 6 of 23 3-point shots. Gabe Cupps led the Elks with 14 points, Rich Rolf had 12 and Tom House 11. Central shot 60% and made 3 of 8 3-pointers.

The first half was up and down for the Elks. A Rich Rolf 3-pointer and Gabe Cupps pull-up jumper put them up 5-2. Central rallied to lead 10-7 then 10-9 at the quarter break.

Pick Central opened the second with a 3-pointer, but the Elks rallied to lead 14-13 when Tom House found Cam Smith alone underneath. Pick Central quickly regained the lead and made it 21-17 on a tip-in at the halftime buzzer. The Elks shot 30% in the first half and made only 2 of 10 3-pointers.

“I didn’t like our shot selection ... most of the night, especially in the first half,” Brook Cupps said. “I thought we were rushed and didn’t wait for the shots that we want to get and probably lacked some discipline. But a lot of that credit goes to Pick Central. They sped us up. We’ve been pressured before, but I didn’t think we handled it as well today as we have in the past.”

The Elks fell behind 30-20 in the third quarter but entered the fourth on an electric 14-6 run, including the final six in a row, to trail 36-34. But the Tigers regrouped and kept the lead in the fourth behind the driving and inside play of 6-foot-6 Devin Royal, who finished with 20 points.

House’s 3-pointer made it 48-46 with 1:20 left, but the Tigers made free throws to clinch it while the Elks had to take quick shots that didn’t fall.

“We’re a good team so we’re going to make some shots eventually – too little too late,” House said. “But we’re a good team. We’re going to fight. That’s what I’m proud of.”

After receiving their runner-up medals and trophy, the Elks sat on their bench while Central celebrated their trophy. Many heads were down, and some players were in tears.

“It’s going to take a little bit to process that and figure it out,” Brook Cupps said. “But that’s part of life and that’s what sports are. You’re supposed to learn and grow and develop and become a better person. This is just another thing that we’re going to have to deal with, and our coaches will try to help them do that.”

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