All eyes keep turning toward Mayo, NCH

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Ironton Fighting Tigers aren't looking ahead. But that doesn't stop the fans.

Ironton coach Roger Zornes said his team is, "focused on Archbold. We've taken each game one at a time all season and we know we can't afford to look past anyone now."

And rightfully so.

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Ironton (25-0) will do battle with the tournament-tested and talented Archbold Blue Streaks (24-1) in the Division III state semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday in the Ohio State University Schottenstein Center.

And while Ironton fans will be watching the game intently, they'll have one corner of their eye peeking ahead toward the winner of the other semifinal game between Loudonville and top-ranked North College Hill.

It's easy for Ironton fans to think about the Trojans who are led by newly crowned Mr. Basketball, O.J. Mayo.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard is familiar to Ironton, especially guards Brigham Waginger and Dennis Gagai. The trio have played together in summer AAU tournaments as well as in junior high when Mayo was at Rose Hill Christian in Ashland, Ky.

Mayo played for the Rose Hill

junior high team when he was in the sixth grade, but moved up to play varsity when he was in the seventh and eighth grades due to the rules in Kentucky that do not limit players regardless of what grade they attend.

After playing two years of varsity and making Rose Hill a prep power, Mayo moved to North College Hill and has led the Trojans to back-to-back Associated Press poll championships.

Not only did Mayo head to North College Hill, but so did his friend Bill Walker who was a second team All-Ohio selection with his high-scoring power and thunderous dunks.

However, lost in the hype is Loudonville.

The Redbirds are 22-3 against a solid schedule including a win over Groveport, a Division I school that also fell victim to Ironton.

Loudonville is making a second straight state tournament appearance and features enough size to match up well against North College Hill.

The Redbirds have 6-8 Kyle Gillette and 6-7 Geoff Reeder along with 6-2 Trevor Scott, the team's leading scorer with an 18.3 average.

If Ironton, Archbold and North College Hill keep watching each other, Loudonville could be the sleeper of the group.

That is, to most people except Zornes.

"Every team is in the state tournament for a reason. These are the four best teams in the state. No one here will be an easy game," Zornes said.