FAIRBORN, Ohio -- The undefeated Moeller basketball team is continuing its memorable journey to Columbus next week.
The Crusaders defeated La Salle 38-32 in a Division I regional final Friday night in front of 2,100 at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Moeller (27-0) plays the winner of Pickerington Central and Pickerington North in a state semifinal March 24 at 5:15 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Pickerington Central plays Pickerington North in a regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Dominican.
Next week will be the sixth state Final Four appearance for the Crusaders and the first since 2010 when it was state runner-up.
“It’s a dream come true especially to do it with all these guys,” said Moeller senior forward Riley Voss. “I couldn’t ask for better guys to share this accomplishment with. We get another week together and we just keep going.”
Moeller, ranked No. 15 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 1 in the season’s final Associated Press statewide poll, defeated La Salle for a third time this season. It was also the third time La Salle and Moeller played each other in the regional final since 2010.
Friday’s regional final was a classic Greater Catholic League South division matchup. Both teams knew what the other was about. The game was tied at 16 at halftime.
It came down to taking advantage of opportunities at the right moment. The margin of error was very small.
Moeller outrebounded La Salle 22-11. The Crusaders also made 13 of 19 free throws, including eight consecutive early in the fourth quarter.
“I really wanted those seniors to have this moment,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “What we did all year in taking so many shots (from opposing teams) … we knew what we were in for tonight. We knew they would play a perfect game – not take a risk and make it a grind-it-out game. To be able to hold in there and withstand that pressure – for all of our kids - we have so many kids on our team that sacrifice to be on it - they sacrifice and they star in their roles.
“When you get a prize like this and you get a chance to go to Columbus, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Moeller senior guard Keegan McDowell had 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists while sophomore guard Miles McBride added nine points.
McDowell’s 3-pointer gave Moeller a 23-21 lead with 2:21 left in the third quarter. The game was tied twice more before Moeller junior forward Jeremiah Davenport made a layup off a perfectly-executed inbound play before the horn sounded to end the quarter.
Davenport, who had six points, said he is glad to follow in his elder brother’s footsteps for a trip to Columbus. Michael Davenport was a part of the 2007 state championship team.
Jeremiah has an opportunity to help Moeller to its first state title since '07.
“This means a lot,” Jeremiah said. “It’s real exciting.”
McBride’s two free throws extended Moeller’s lead to 33-26 with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. La Salle got within three with 58.2 seconds left, but McDowell made three free throws on three separate trips to the line to seal the game.
“The biggest key is the coaches get us prepared,” McDowell said. “They find little nuisances every time we play – different things to take advantage of. We always have that edge and we had that edge tonight.”
La Salle (24-4) was led by senior guard CJ Fleming with 10 points. Fleming concluded an outstanding four-year varsity career at La Salle.
La Salle coach Dan Fleming, CJ's father, said the Lancers were in the game and made it competitive, unlike the second meeting in February at Bill Cady Court.
But the little things that La Salle could’ve controlled ended up slipping away in some aspects - like a rebound, a missed shot or the play at the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we competed pretty hard,” Dan Fleming said. “We made them at least uncomfortable, but we couldn’t score for a while. They made plays at the end of the game when it counted.”
CJ Fleming, senior guard Tre Crigler and senior forward Joe Hartmann exited the game at the same time and also accepted the regional runner-up trophy at mid-court.
“These guys have come such a long way,” Dan Fleming said. “We’re little undermanned with numbers and everything. We just battle. We know who we are and we like who we are. I am glad (the seniors) are leaving because it’s time for them to take a new challenge. They’ve done everything they can for La Salle basketball. CJ has played since a freshman and Joe and Tre have started since they were sophomores.
“They’ve done everything they can. They’ve really passed the torch to the other guys.”