In big games, big players make big plays and Dublin Coffman junior guard CJ Saunders was the epitome of that on Saturday morning. Scoring 18 of his 22 points in the second half, Saunders was effective on both ends of the floor to lead Coffman to a 60-51 victory.
Jumping out to an 11-8 lead after a quarter of play, Coffman looked to be the most confident the Rocks had been all season long against an experienced Newark squad. As sophomore wing Luke Vargo paced Coffman with 11 points in the first half, Coffman forced Newark to play uncharacteristically on the offensive end, forcing the Wildcats into six turnovers in the opening two quarters.
Vargo and star Newark junior Jordan Dartis would go into the half leading all scorers with 11 points, as Coffman held a 27-22 lead at the break.
In the third quarter, Dartis would heat back up in the tune of eight points, but the rest of the Wilscat supporting cast had difficulty following suit. As Coffman executed in a 1-3-1 zone, the Rocks would continue to pressure Newark on the perimeter, while sophomores Sam Payne and Seth Fuller put in valuable minutes for a Coffman team with only one senior. Heading into the fourth with a 36-33 lead, the final frame would be a true test for a Coffman team that hasn't always been the best at executing late this season.
With Newark making a spirited charge in the fourth, the sophomore Payne would knock down two major threes in the final quarter, each putting Coffman ahead by eight points in the early minutes of the period. As Newark cut the deficit to 46-43 with 4:05 to go, Coffman's hero on Saturday, Saunders responded with a crucial floater in traffic to push the Coffman lead back to four with just under three minutes to go. Saunders would then force a steal on the next possession, hitting one of two free throws to put the Rocks ahead 49-43 with 3:25 remaining.
After two Dartis free throws cut the Coffman lead back to four with just under three minutes to go, Saunders came up clutch once again. Spotting up alongside the left wing, the junior's three put Coffman ahead 52-45 with 2:45 to go. After Newark failed to score on the next possession, Saunders would knock down two free throws after being fouled, and on Newark's next trip, Saunders would take a rebound coast-to-coast for a major score to put Coffman up 56-46 with 1:14 remaining.
Coffman would limit Newark for the remainder of the game to go home with its first district title since 2009-10, 61-50. Saunders led all Rocks' scorers with 22 points, while Vargo added 14, while battling foul trouble for the majority of the second half. Payne added 10 points off the bench in a breakout performance for the talented 6'3 sophomore. Senior point guard Nate Axelrod finished with five points and five assists, playing an Aaron Craft style of basketball on Saturday.
For Newark, Dartis led the way with 27 points, and was the lone Newark player with a field goal in the second half. Senior center Teddy Metzen added nine points, five of which coming from the line. Dartis would be the only Newark scorer in double-figures as the Wildcats wrap up a season that had very high expectations after winning a share of the OCC-Ohio division title.
With the win, Dublin Coffman advances to the regional semifinals to play the winner of No. 1 Northland and No. 8 Westerville Central.