Wayne’s L’Christian “Blue” Smith (right) was matched against Moeller 6-10 center Jaxson Hayes. Moeller defeated Wayne 65-53 in a boys high school basketball D-I regional final at Xavier University Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Friday, March 16, 2018. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Moeller’s late surge ends Wayne’s title drive

“Going into the season a lot of people doubted us,” reflected senior guard Deshon Parker. “As seniors, we just had to put Wayne back on top.”

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Wayne did just that, until running into mighty Cincinnati Moeller in a highly anticipated Division I regional final at Xavier University’s Cintas Center on Friday night. Moeller’s second-half surge and 65-53 win launches the Crusaders (25-3) into this week’s season-ending state final four at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Wayne ends its rebound season at a spectacular 25-2 under first-year coach Nate Martindale, who was promoted to succeed Travis Trice when he took over the Warriors’ girls program. It also was the farewell game to celebrated Wayne seniors Darius Quisenberry, a Youngstown State recruit, L’Christian “Blue” Smith (OSU football) and Parker (James Madison).

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“It’s bittersweet for me,” Martindale said. “Our goal was to try and win state. Our kids fought like crazy and we were relentless. It was one of those things we were going to go out fighting.”

It was a tough assignment for Wayne. Quisenberry and Moeller’s Jeremiah Davenport, a Wright State recruit, were paired against each other. Both had a game-high 21 points and were outstanding in take-charge roles.

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Parker also had a strong backcourt presence with 15 points. Rashad McKee, who’ll be a rare three-year starter at quarterback for Wayne’s football team, added 11 points.

The difference was at center where Moeller’s Jaxson Hayes, a 6-foot-10 senior, ruled. The Texas recruit had 20 points, seven rebounds and six blocks. Smith (six points, five rebounds), assigned to Hayes, fouled out with 4:16 left and Wayne still within striking range.

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Two McKee free throws cut Wayne’s deficit to 50-46, but without Smith to lean on Hayes Wayne had no chance.

McKee, Parker and Quisenberry each hit two 3-pointers apiece to account for much of Wayne’s 27-26 halftime lead, “and we thought five of them were pretty well contested,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “We felt if we kept protecting the rim and forced them to take perimeter shots, we’ll win.”

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Sure enough, Wayne was 0-for-8 in 3-pointers the decisive second half and was outrebounded 33-20. “We just didn’t have the legs,” said Martindale.

That’s the kind of defensive difference that will carry Moeller into its second straight final four. The Crusaders were the state runner-up last season and have played without standout guard Miles “Deuce” McBride. A sophomore starter last season, he hasn’t played after injuring a foot as Moeller’s starting quarterback last fall. He’s committed to West Virginia for basketball.

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“I think they’re going to win it all,” conceded Parker. “That was a great team right there.”

The teams hadn’t played in more than a decade, but it won’t take that long again. Kremer said the powers will begin a home and home regular-season series next season at Wayne.

“It’s a hard night for us, but I’m extremely proud of them,” Martindale said. “I love those guys.”

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