Before last season, district basketball championships were reserved for the girls basketball team at Oak Hill. But with the Oaks' "Cinderella" run last season, Oak Hill captured the first-ever district championship for a boys basketball squad from Jackson County.
Last year's tournament run ended when Oak Hill matched up with the co-SOC II championship squad from Wheelersburg in the regional semi-final contest. The Oaks maneuvered their way to the regional round with wins over Wellston, Alexander, South Point in overtime and Fairland to seize the district crown as a No. 7 seed.
The Oaks won their second straight Southeast District Championship Saturday with a 67-57 victory over Manchester at Ohio University's Convocation Center in Athens. This year, the Oaks will not sneak up on anybody. The Oaks received a No. 1 seed and sport a mark of 20-3 on the year.
The Oaks' opponents tonight, though, won't be in awe of Oaks or the spectacle that is the regional tournament.
Oak Hill will face off with Canal Winchester Harvest Preparatory for the right to advance to the regional final to meet the winner of Waterford and Worthington Christian.
Harvest Prep is the fifth ranked team in Division IV, according to the AP, and the state runners-up from 2007.
Persin says the thing that Harvest Prep can show them that they have not seen all year is their athleticism.
"Without question, they are the most athletic team we have seen all year," Persin said. "They are a D-IV school with D-I athletes. That is easiest way to describe it."
Persin says the advantage the Oaks have over Harvest Prep is their size inside.
"We have more size than they do," Persin said. "We're going to try to keep them off the boards, and our shot selection has to be tremendous. Even though we are bigger, they are quicker to the ball and their kids are good jumpers," Persin added. "If we can get second and third opportunities, which we have been up to doing so, it will help us."
Persin says that Harvest Prep is a very aggressive team on defensive end, playing tough man-to-man defense and picking and choosing when to trap the basketball. Coach Persin said offensively, his team wants to work the ball inside, where the Oaks have the size advantage, and try to get a couple baskets out of transition.
Another thing Persin thinks could work in his team's favor is the new setting of the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
"Sometimes when you go to a new arena, it gets the kids to re-focus," said Persin. "I hope that will work for us."
Defensively, the Oaks look to give Harvest Prep a lot of different zone defenses to decipher.
"We like to mix and match our zone defenses," said Persin. "We have to do that. It's too late in the year to try something new. We have to stay with what got us here. We can't stay in one defense too long, (though)."
Persin believes the key to the game is to not fall behind early.
"We have to be competitive early," he said. "In the last two games, we had to fight back and this team wants to get us down early. We can't get behind. The pace of the game and to be competitive early (is what we have to control)."
Persin believes his team's experience in tough games will play to their advantage.
"Close games help the kids," he said. "You have to put yourself in the situation."
Persin says although his team is young, they are also mentally strong and will never give in.
The game will start at 8 p.m. at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus on the grounds of the Ohio State Fair.
BRET BEVENS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 242.