COLUMBUS – No. 29 was special for Crestview, as special as it gets in high school basketball.
But maybe even more so for the Knights’ boys basketball coach Jeremy Best.
The Knights (29-0) completed a quest for a perfect season when they beat Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 71-44 in a dominating performance to win their first state championship Saturday.
Celebrating the state title was the primary reason 29 was special. But it was also the number Best’s late father, Dean, used when he raced USAC sprint cars in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“He had No. 29 on his race car. It fit. It fit. It was really cool,” Best said.
Damian Helm scored 20 points and Tyson Bolenbaugh had 18 points and eight rebounds to lead Crestview. Connor Lautzenheiser scored 11 points and Preston Zaleski had 10 points.
Anthony Moeglin, with 10 points, was the only Aquinas player to hit double figures. Its leading scorer, Austin Hill (17.1 points a game) was held to six points by Helm in a matchup of state Division IV Co-Players of the Year.
Crestview opened up a big lead early when it started the game on a 13-5 run but saw Aquinas battle back to within three points, 26-23, at halftime.
Aquinas (17-12) came within inches of intercepting Crestview’s in-bounds pass to start the second half, but it was all downhill after that. And it went downhill in a hurry.
Crestview opened the second half by outscoring Aquinas 18-0 in a span of five minutes. By the end of the quarter, Aquinas had more than twice as many turnovers (seven) as points (three) in the first eight minutes of the second half.
After outscoring Tri-Village 15-4 in the third quarter in the Division IV state semifinals, the Knights outscored Aquinas 20-3 in the third quarter Saturday.
“That’s a pretty unique run,” Best said. “When you put on an 18-0 run, that’s pretty unique. You knock shots down, that helps the cause.”
Helm said, “It didn’t really hit me until they took that timeout and we were up by 19 points and I was like, ‘Whoa, we’re doing some good things.’ ”
Point guard Cam Etzler said the halftime discussion that might have helped ignite the third quarter run-out was mostly about toughness.
“We just kind of knew this was our last high school basketball game and it’s for a state championship. He (Best) just really stressed being tough. They were being tougher than us, flat out,” he said.
St. Thomas Aquinas coach Matt Hackenberg said, “It wasn’t the ending we wanted but Crestview, that’s a great team. They really D’d it up and made it tough for us to get good looks.
“We kind of had our hand forced because we could never really take control of the game. We just couldn’t break through,” he said.
Moeglin agreed with his coach that Aquinas lost control of the game during that third-quarter blitz. “When we got down big, we were in desperation mode and had to try to start trying to make things happen,” he said.
Desperation mode for Aquinas was followed by celebration mode for Crestview. And that celebration was powered by a third-quarter acceleration any race driver would be happy to have.
Crestview 71, Louisville Aquinas 44
Preston Zaleski 10, Cam Etzler 5, Connor Lautzenheiser 11, Damian Helm 20, Tyson Bolenbaugh 18, Isaiah Simerman 2, Cody Mefferd 2, Brock Rolsten 1, Eli Jones 2. Totals: 25-15-71..
Daniel Piero 5, Sam Pusateri 9, Anthony Moeglin 110, Jacob Paul 5, Austin Hill 6, Pete Ruthe 2, Gino Pellegrene 2, Jimmy Donnelly 2, Frank DiMarzio 3. Totals: 15-9-44..
Score by quarters:
C—Helm 3, Lautzenheiser 3, LA—Pusateri 3, Piero 1, Moeglin 1.
Records: Crestview 29-0; Aquinas 17-12