For the second straight season, the Catholic Central High School boys basketball team will face an opponent from the mighty Midwest Athletic Conference with a berth in the Division IV Elite Eight on the line.
Catholic Central (22-3) will face St. Henry (22-3) in a D-IV regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Kettering Fairmont High School’s Trent Arena.
Jackson Center (21-5) will play conference rival Fort Loramie (19-7) in the other D-IV regional semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. The winners of Tuesday’s games will face off in the regional final at 7 p.m. Friday at Trent Arena.
A year ago, Catholic Central advanced to regionals for the first time since 1997, falling to eventual state champion Marion Local in the semifinals.
This time around, the Irish should know exactly what to expect in the Sweet 16, especially against a MAC team, said Catholic Central coach Cody Sarensen.
The Redskins beat two conference opponents (Minster, Marion Local) to advance to regionals. Three other MAC teams — Anna, Versailles and Coldwater — all advanced to the D-III regional semifinals last weekend.
“(The MAC) is brutal,” he said. “We know what to expect from playing Marion Local. (St. Henry) is going to be tough. They’re going to challenge everything. I’d like to think that from our experience from last year and some of the teams we’ve played who’ve had similar defenses that we’re a little more prepared this year.”
The Irish haven’t lost to a D-IV team since its regional semifinal loss a year, going 12-0 against similar-sized schools this season. Catholic Central’s three losses came at the hands of bigger schools, including Clark County rival Shawnee (D-II), West Liberty-Salem (D-III) and Fairbanks (D-III).
The seventh-ranked Irish beat New Miami 71-63 to win their second straight D-IV district final on Friday night at UD Arena.
The third-ranked Redskins beat Marion Local 52-40 in a D-IV district final game at Wapakoneta to advance to the regionals. St. Henry was bounced by the Flyers in the 2018 district finals.
“They’re a great team and they’re well-coached,” Sarensen said of St. Henry. “They had some revenge factor in play as well (against Marion Local).”
The Redskins are led by seniors Caden Niekamp (13.0 points per game), Jay Knapke and Zach Niekamp, all of whom were named first team all-conference.
“We know that we’ve got to come in and play almost as perfect as we can to keep advancing,” Sarensen said. “It’s a big stage. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”
The Springfield community came out in full force for the district finals, many wearing T-shirts that read “Unfinished Business,” the team’s motto this season.
“That’s Central,” Sarensen said. “We always have a following. It’s really neat to see that crowd there always supporting you.”
The third-year coach also saw several alumni who recently graduated from the program.
“If it wasn’t for those alumni starting it off, those guys (in the locker room) wouldn’t be where they’re at if they weren’t pushed when they were younger,” Sarensen said. “It’s a program. It’s a family. I’m glad we’re doing the right things right now.”