KETTERING — They jumped, they ran, they searched for someone to hug and they looked at the scoreboard to memorize the moment.
That was how it looked just after Perry made history by qualifying for the boys state basketball tournament for the first time in school history with a 57-44 win over Cincinnati Christian in the championship game of the Division IV regional at Trent Arena on Friday night.
The Commodores (24-3) will play Columbus Wellington at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in a Division IV state semifinal.
Orion Monford scored 21 points, Logan Dray had 13 and Plummie Gardner scored 11 points for Perry. Dylan Woods led Cincinnati Christian (22-6) with 17 points.
“It feels amazing,” Monford said. Dray said, “It’s just unbelievable.” Perry coach Matt Tabler’s word of choice for how it felt as he looked at the final score on the scoreboard was “surreal.”
Perry led for all but 30 seconds in the third quarter, but Cincinnati Christian threw two big challenges at the Commodores down the stretch.
After Perry went out to a 24-19 halftime lead, with 18 of those points coming on 3-pointers, Cincinnati Christian took a 34-33 lead late in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Woods.
But Gardner responded with a 3-pointer and a steal for a bucket to give Perry a 38-34 lead going into the final eight minutes.
Perry stretched the lead to 14 points, 48-34, with five minutes to play, but Cincinnati Christian came back again and had the margin down to six points with 2 ½ minutes left in the game.
But that was as close as the Cougars could get. And as the last minute ticked off the clock, it was time to celebrate something that had never been done before at Perry.
“We knew they were going to make a run at us. Our kids just kept making play after play. And it wasn’t the kids who are averaging 15 and 16 points a game. Logan Dray was absolutely tremendous down the stretch – big shots, big defensive plays,” Tabler said.
Cincinnati Christian’s defense concentrated on Perry’s top two scorers, Jakoby Lane-Harvey and Kobe Glover, and held them to eight and four points. Six of Lane-Harvey’s points came in the fourth quarter as the Commodores held off Cincinnati Christian’s attempt to put together a comeback.
“Cincinnati Christian gave us a big, big punch but our kids just kept fighting until the buzzer,” Tabler said.
The Commodores, of course, had shown much greater resiliency in facing the death of assistant coach Herb Lane Jr. last Monday than they would have to from anything an opponent could ever do.
“Coach Lane, this is for you. You were my optimism guy. You told me constantly during the year we were going to the state tournament final four. I’m a pessimistic guy,” Tabler said. “Coach Lane was looking down on us.”
Monford was the offensive leader in both of Perry’s regional wins. He scored 20 points in a 52-50 win over Fort Loramie in the semifinal round.
He hit five of his first seven shots, including three 3-pointers on Friday night. Against Fort Loramie, he hit his first seven shots, including three 3-pointers.
“I got hot at the right time and my teammates kept feeding me the ball because they believed in me all season,” Monford said.
“Orion has made big play after big play and he continues to make big plays for us,” Tabler said. “We spread them out enough and we made some big threes when we did.”
And now the Commodores will move on and look for those big plays on the biggest stage in high school basketball in Ohio.