VINCENT - Warren will be on unchartered hardwood when it plays Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in an Ohio Division II state semifinal boys' basketball game at Value City Arena on the campus of The Ohio State University at 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
The Warrior cagers, 26-1 overall with a 21-game winning streak, are looking forward to the experience.
"It's just so good to go and play at Ohio State with all the people watching," said Warren junior sharpshooter Evan French. "It's great for the community to go out there and represent them good.
Photo courtesy of Robin Pannell
Warren’s Adam Lang, left, and Matt Drayer, third from left, play tight defense against Jackson in an SEOAL game during the regular season. The Warriors are scheduled to play Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys in a state semifinal at Value City Arena Thursday.
"I love my teammates. They're everything to me, and it just feels so good to be going to state. It's been something we've been working for all year."
Veteran Warriors head coach Blane Maddox added, "It's unbelievable. This is awesome for our community. It's wonderful. The students get out early, I think, Thursday.
"I know that whatever happens, we will represent southeastern Ohio basketball and Washington County with class."
Said Warren senior Dylan Leffingwell, "It's just the greatest feeling that you could ever imagine. I mean, state, Schottenstein (Value City Arena), what's better than that? Nothing."
Warren got to the Final 4 by virtue of its dramatic 49-47 triumph over New Philadelphia in a regional final at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens Saturday. Evan Yabs' putback score at the buzzer sealed the deal.
"I was on the right wing, and Dylan attacked (the basket) - and he had a couple of guys going at him," said the 5-foot-9 Yabs of his only two points of the contest. "My man left me, and I was just wide open there for the putback."
Said French, "It actually reminded me of couple of years ago when we were in the district final against Chillicothe. The same thing happened to us.
"I was just so happy when that happened (Yabs' putback). It was great."
French, a recent All-Ohio honoree, paced the Warriors with 21 points. Reece Patton added 15 markers.
Against STVM, Warren's fifth starter is expected to by 6-5 sophomore Michael Hall, who scored a team-high 21 points in the district final win against Vinton County.
Danny Pannell and Adam Lang will be the first Warriors off the pine.
"We have always said all along that we are a team of more than one," Maddox said. "We're a whole unit."
Unlike Warren, St. Vincent-St. Marys (19-9), a private co-ed Catholic prep school, is no stranger to the Final 4 in Columbus. The Irish have claimed seven state titles (1929, 1984, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009 and 2011) in their storied history on the basketball court.
In 2003, STVM was the USA Today National Champion.
One of the school's most notable alumni is current NBA and Miami Heat super star LeBron James.
"LeBron's old team (St. Vincent-St. Marys)," Leffingwell said. "You know, we're all into that Twitter and stuff. So, we might be tweeting him all day to see if he's going, or just try to get him to respond to see if we can beat his team."
The Dru Joyce II-coached Irish got to state by staging a second half rally to beat the Warrensville Heights Tigers (17-11) 57-48 in a regional title tilt at Canton Memorial Civic Center Saturday.
St. Vincent-St. Marys trailed 27-24 at the intermission, but regained the advantage 33-27 at the end of the third - and never looked back.
STVM was led by 6-6 senior forward Nick Wells, who recorded a double-double with 21 points (15 in the second half) and 13 rebounds. The Lake Erie College recruit also had three swats, one steal and one assist.
VJ King, a 6-7 freshman guard, added 11 points, four caroms and two blocks. Jalen Hudson, a 6-6 junior backcourt player, had seven markers, three boards, two swats, and two steals.
Jarel Woolridge, Travonte Junious, Jordan Hargrove and Fransohn Bickley combined to score 18 points for the Irish winners.
STVM had trouble against Warrensville Height's uptempo offense, especially in the second quarter. But when the Irish switched to a 2-3 zone in the third period, they were able to slow the Tigers down.
Warren is very capable of any style of play on the hardwood, transition or halfcourt. If the Warriors face a 2-3, they have zone-breakers galore, including 6-2 pivot player Leffingwell, who knocked down one three in the win against New Philadelphia.
If it's man-to-man, French, Patton, Hall and Lang are all good one-on-one players. And, Leffingwell is fearless with the ball and will attack the basket no matter who's on him - and that's a good thing, because that's how a player can draw fouls.
Warren probably won't be facing any STVM player in the paint as strong as New Philly's 6-6 Ethan Boose. But the Warriors will still be undersized a little bit in that area as the Irish have good length and at least three shot blockers 6-6 or taller.
The royal blue and white cagers will definitely have to play good help defense, which they do very well anyways, and also box out on the glass.
Warren will also have to take care of the basketball. Against the Quakers, the Warriors had 12 turnovers, including 10 after the break.
"We had too many turnovers against New Philly," Maddox said. "That's what gave them a chance to get back in the game."
Both Warren and St. Vincent-St. Marys are expected to be nervous before the opening tip-off. That's actually normal, but once the game begins, those jitters and butterflies in the stomach should disappear.
A good start in the game is always preferable to a bad one as no team wants to be climbing out of a hole, or in a catch-up mode.
A good start is also good for the confidence.
Warren is counting on its royal blue and white faithful to make lots and lots of noise at Value City Arena. If the fans aren't hoarse at the end of the game...well, let's just say they just can't sit there on their hands. If they can't hear themselves think then they've done their job.
Warren High will be closed Thursday as five busloads of students are expected to be on the highway to Columbus.
The Warriors' spring break has been shortened by one day.
Also helping with the noise level at the arena will be the Warren pep band under the direction of Courtney Clark.
"It'll be the best experience that we'll ever have," said Leffingwell smiling. "It's a great opportunity for southeast Ohio to get out and go see, hopefully, a really good game."