COLUMBUS — A trip to the state capital served as a nice tune-up for Badin High School’s boys basketball team.
The Rams will host McNicholas for a pivotal Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division contest Friday night at Mulcahey Gym, but the first successful step of the week was a 58-49 road win over Columbus Watterson on Wednesday.
“It’s kind of tough only getting one day to prepare, but I looked at this as a team somewhat similar to McNick,” Badin coach Gerry Weisgerber said after his Rams pushed their record to 7-1. “I knew they were going to get after it man-to-man. They were going to be physical. They’ve got kids who can shoot it. They get all over the glass. So this was a good game for us to get ready for Friday night.”
Badin, McNick and Purcell Marian are locked in a three-way tie for first place in the GCLC Central with 2-1 marks, while Roger Bacon is 0-3. Purcell will visit Bacon on Friday.
The Rams have won two straight games since taking their lone defeat at Purcell on Dec. 21. Watterson (3-5) doesn’t have a great record, but plays a strong schedule and has three losses to Division I opponents.
Wednesday’s matchup saw Badin forge a 30-13 lead at halftime. The Rams played clean, efficient basketball, and the Eagles shot poorly.
“We played as well as we’ve been playing defensively in that first half,” Weisgerber said. “We were aware of all their cuts. We were aware of where things were. We did a good job on the boards.”
Watterson elevated its game considerably after the break, but couldn’t get closer than seven (56-49). Badin gave the Eagles some second-half help with eight turnovers and a 12-of-20 effort at the foul line (21-of-37 overall).
“You could definitely tell they were football players,” said Rams senior guard Nathan Hegemann, who had eight points, five assists and four rebounds. “If we’re going to get bodied, we’ve got to hit free throws and make layups, which we didn’t always do tonight. We’ll win a lot of ballgames if we can do that.”
Zach Sawyer scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half for Watterson. Sawyer, Mason Graney and Mike Bruzzese combined for 21 points in the final stanza, with the Eagles hitting all three of their 3-pointers during that stretch.
“The first half was a poor, poor performance,” Watterson coach Vincent Lombardo said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Badin because they did a nice job, but our intensity level early was not where it needed to be. I thought we got outhustled, outfought and just generally outplayed early. We did a reasonable job of battling back throughout the rest of the game, but when you dig a hole that deep, it’s tough to come back.”
The Eagles never got close enough to give the visitors pause, but Badin clearly knew the Eagles were still fighting at the end. Free-throw shooting has been an ongoing problem for the Rams.
“It was just like a little gnat on the back of your neck telling you, ‘Come on, we’ve got to push it into high gear,’ ” Hegemann said of Watterson’s second-half comeback. “We really came out and played in the first half, but we were a little flat-footed at the end.
“We got better at free-throw shooting tonight, but we’ve got to keep grinding and working at it in practice. It’s on us. Only we can control what we’re doing at the line.”
Said Weisgerber, “The second half was annoying because this is a couple games now where we’ve had double-digit leads and had to scratch harder in the last two minutes than we should be doing.”
Weisgerber said Badin’s practice routine includes situational free-throw shooting that the Rams generally handle pretty well, so he believes they will continue to get better during games.
Badin had plenty of balance on the Central Catholic League court. Eleven players scored, led by an 18-point showing by Justin Pappas.
Zach Switzer and Seth Hargis scored six points apiece, and Joseph Walsh and Josh Hegemann each added five. Pappas had four rebounds and three steals.
“Keep pushing, keep fighting … that’s always Badin’s mentality,” Nathan Hegemann said. “I love this team. It’s so much fun and a great group of guys. We’re looking to exceed expectations and keep playing and keep living large.”
Lombardo, the Eagles’ head coach for 26 years, said he hopes to bring his team to Hamilton next season.
Watterson will visit Mansfield St. Peter’s on Saturday.