The story line is, of course, Lima Central Catholic’s return to the boys state basketball tournament and its pursuit of a second consecutive Division III state championship.
The question is when did the Thunderbirds begin to think that they could have back-to-back dream seasons.
LCC (25-2) secured that return trip with a 54-42 win over Columbus Hartley in the Division III regional championship game at Bowling Green on Saturday night.
A year ago LCC won the Division III state title game 64-62 over heavily favored Cleveland Villa Angela –St. Joseph, who appeared about as shocked with the outcome as someone who just discovered their parents’ will left everything to the family dog and nothing to them.
Back-to-back trips to the state tournament are not unheard of, but they are rare.
So when exactly did the idea of going back to Columbus take hold for the Thunderbirds? At different times for different players, it appears.
“We just got right after it. As soon as we won the first one we wanted to come back and get a second one,” junior guard Josh Dixon said as the nets were being cut after the regional win over Hartley.
Senior center Jake Williams said it took a while for him to consider the possibility of going to the state tournament again.
“I was celebrating the first one for a while. I didn’t even think about getting back until summer when we were going to open gym,” he said.
“You start playing without the guys who graduated or left from last year and you start realizing when we go to team camps and we’re winning a lot of games that we could be really good when the winter rolls around.”
Junior guard Nick Taflinger said, “We just take one game at a time. We try not to look ahead. It’s hard not to look ahead but we stayed focused. I mean, of course we thought about it, but we were really patient and tried to take it a game at a time.
“It’s the same exact feeling. It feels really good to get back. We worked really hard and we deserve this,” he said.
Junior guard Tre Cobbs said, “A lot of people doubted us doing this. They didn’t think we were going to be here. But, hey, we’re here.”
LCC coach coach Frank Kill has gone to back-to-back state tournaments now as a coach and a player. He played for Lincolnview’s 1997 Division IV state champion team a year after the Lancers lost in the state title game to Springfield Catholic Central.
“I’ll never get used to it. This is just different because it’s a different team. I’m ecstatic to go back to Columbus because most coaches don’t even get one opportunity, much less two chances to go down and win a state title.
“I think we’re blessed. To be able to go back two years in a row with different guys, we are a blessed team,” he said.
LCC’s state semifinal against Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (22-6) at 8:30 p.m Thursday will also be sort of a return appearance. The Thunderbirds won 64-54 when the two teams played Feb. 10 at LCC.
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