COLUMBUS - It's been 20 years since Bob Krizancic last coached in the state tournament. He'll gladly take a repeat performance.
Krizancic guided Girard to the 1993 Division II state championship with a win over Columbus Whitehall-Yearling. He rode that win to a new position at Mentor, one of Ohio's largest high schools.
Now, 335 victories later, Krizancic is poised to claim a second championship after his Cardinals knocked off top-ranked and previously unbeaten Columbus Northland 80-69 in a Division I boys state basketball tournament semifinal at Value City Arena here Friday night.
They will take on Toledo Rogers at 8:30 p.m. today for the championship. Rogers advanced by beating Cincinnati Walnut Hills 58-51 in Friday's nightcap.
"We've always had a loaded schedule to prepare ourselves for the tournament," Krizancic said after his club improved to 24-5. "We lost four of five games this year in the fourth quarter, but the really impressive thing to me is how we learned from that."
The game appeared headed for a rocking finish. After freshman Seth Towns hit a 3-pointer to pull Northland (28-1) even at 58-58, Jeff Foreman nailed one from long range for Mentor. But just as quickly, it was tied again when Ty Hairston hit a trey as well to make it 61-61 with 5:20 to play.
The Cardinals sealed the win with a big night at the foul line, where they hit 24 of their first 27 shots before finishing at 26-for-31.
Brody Nelson hit a foul shot and Connor Krizancic added a foul-line jumper for a 64-61 edge. Nelson scored on back-to-back layups as the Cardinals eased ahead by seven at 70-63.
Foreman hit four straight foul shots and Brandon Fritts added a couple to put the game out of reach.
"We haven't been a good free throw shooting team, but tonight we were," Bob Krizancic said. "We're trying to be a complete team. Our defense wasn't that good that long ago but our work ethic is why we are here. About a month ago, we absolutely busted it to get better defensively."
That may not show up on the stat sheet. Northland matched Mentor by hitting 24-of-43 shots from the field and the Vikings were similarly efficient from 3-point range, where they made 9-of-17.
But foul trouble and the 31 free throw opportunities made the difference. Towns eventually fouled out and two other starters, Shemar Waugh and Jaylen Tucker finished with four. Waugh was limited to 22 minutes playing time.
"What it came down to is, we couldn't stop them from going to the cup," Northland coach Seth Taylor said. "We didn't do a very good job on help side.
"I thought we did a really good job contesting their 3-pointers," he said. "But we usually don't get beat off the dribble and we usually have help on the back side."
Foreman led the winners with 20 points, but he had plenty of help. Connor Krizancic and Nelson each had 17 points, Fritts added nine and Kade McClure contributed nine.
A come-from-behind win for Huntington (WV) Prep and two such wins by Shaker Heights accounted for most of the Mentor losses. Krizancic said his club developed from those.
"We played not to lose in the fourth quarter against those guys and you've got to play to win," he said. "We have a saying that you can't win with boys and you can't lose with men. That's why you play to win and keep attacking."
Hairston scored 19 to lead a group of five Vikings in double figures. Seth and Armani Towns each had 12, Derek McKeithen had 11 and Jaylen Tucker 10.
ROGERS RALLIES - Rogers advanced to the Division II state semifinals here two years ago only to fall 68-66 to Dayton Thurgood Marshall. The Rams (21-7) are back and have advanced to the Division I championship game thanks to a fourth-quarter rally.
Isaiah Johnson, Walnut Hills' 6-foot-9 post with the body of an offensive tackle, had the crowd in an uproar with a power dunk for a 43-38 Eagle lead with 6:45 to play.
But Tribune Dailey Jr. answered with a dunk of his own off a Keandre Gilmer lob for the Rams. Rogers took over by dominating the final 2:39.
It began with a 3-pointer by Clemmye Owens, the Rams' season-long scoring leader who struggled for 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
The play of the game came with 52 seconds left when the Rams' Devonte Pratt drove the lane and flipped in a shot while drawing a foul from Walnut Hills' Adam Brown. Pratt didn't convert the three-point play, but Rogers was on top for good.
Owens hit three foul shots and Dailey's dunk off a Tony Kynard II pass at the buzzer was a monster finishing touch.
"Devonte is the type of player who will have a good game one night and a bad game another, but he's one of those guys who's been with me for four years. I have confidence in him," Ram coach Earl Morris said.
"I just knew it was going in," Pratt said. "I went at him and got a foul and the shot went in."
Kynard wasn't so confident.
"He can make those, but I didn't like the shot," Kynard said with a smile. "He's lucky he made it because I was going to have words for him."
Walnut Hills, ranked third in the final Associated Press poll, had a strong inside game as 6-6 DJ Wingfield hit 8-of-12 shots for 20 points with nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Johnson managed just 6-of-19 but finished with 17 points and 11 boards.
"We knew we weren't going to stop him. Our goal was to make him work," Morris said. "We switched to a zone and we normally don't play a zone. Zone is not in my vocabulary, but we switched to it just to give them a different look. When we want to play defense, we can play defense."
No other Walnut Hills player scored more than four.
"We couldn't finish at the rim through contact," Walnut Hills coach Ricardo Hill said. "It was a physical ballgame and the ball just seemed to bounce their way. They made shots that normally teams don't make against us."
Morris is hoping for more of the same tonight against Mentor. There is a connection in that Rogers fell to Columbus Northland 71-69 in their season opener.
"I told Northland that day we're going to start the season in Columbus and we're going to end the season in Columbus," Morris said. "That's what we're going to do."