WILLARD — Second-round playoff games don’t usually demand this much fanfare.
Then again, two of Richland County’s most tradition-rich programs don’t often meet so early in the tournament.
Backyard rivals Lexington and Ontario will renew postseason hostilities at 8 p.m. Friday in the nightcap of a Division II sectional championship doubleheader at Robert L. Haas Gymnasium. And for high school basketball enthusiasts in north central Ohio, it doesn’t get any better.
“It really doesn’t matter if it is basketball, football or checkers,” Lexington coach Scott Hamilton said. “When it’s Lex and Ontario, it’s a pretty heated night and there’s going to be a lot of energy in the gym.”
The eighth-seeded Warriors (15-8) tuned up for Friday’s showdown with a resounding 67-37 win over Galion in the early game Wednesday at Willard. Ontario was a pedestrian 6-7 through the end of January, but is 9-1 since.
Coaching legend Joe Balogh is in his 34th season at Ontario. He picked up his 550th career victory earlier this season.
“Any time you look down the sideline and you see (Balogh) down there, you know it’s going to be something special,” said Hamilton, who is in his seventh season at Lex. “They are playing as well as anybody in the area right now.”
Second-seeded Lexington (18-5) pounded Edison 66-29 in Wednesday’s late game. The Minutemen have won 14 of their last 16 games dating to late-December.
“This is typically what you would see in a district semifinal or a district final game,” Balogh said. “That is probably the kind of atmosphere you’re going to have here on Friday night.”
Lexington won the annual regular season meeting back on Dec. 29. The Minutemen beat the short-handed Warriors 50-43 at Ontario.
“I missed the first game, so I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” said Ontario’s Jayden Jacobs, who sat out because of illness. “It will be fun.”
A senior, Jacobs scored 16 points in Wednesday’s win over Galion. Sophomore sharpshooter Griffin Shaver had a team-high 21, including five 3-pointers.
“We were hoping to get another chance to play them,” Shaver said. “We’ve got to stay focused and go to work.”
All-Ohio candidate Cade Stover led the Minutemen against Edison, scoring 20 first-half points before taking a seat for good midway through the third quarter. Senior Nick Stehle came off the bench to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds.
“We only have one day to prepare for Ontario and we know they run a lot of stuff, so we’ve got to dial it in during practice,” Stehle said. “I think the gym is going to be packed. Ontario travels well and so do we, so it should be a great atmosphere Friday night.”