The Oak Hill Oaks are entering familiar territory, as they prepare for the Division III District Championship game tonight. However, they are looking for a different result this season after losing to Southeastern, 35-31, in the title game last year.
It's been five-years since the Oaks have won a district championship (2012-13 season), as they advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, before losing to Ironton. They bowed out in the sectional tournament in 2014, 2015, and 2016, before advancing to the district finals last season.
Obviously, in the tournament, it is win or go home. There is no tomorrow if you lose and Oak Hill is trying to avoid that when they take on a familiar opponent in the Eastern Pike Eagles on Saturday at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens.
Oak Hill and Eastern met during the regular season, with the Oaks earning a 61-29 win on Dec. 1 at Oak Hill High School. Seven different Oaks reached the scoring column led by Mitchell Hale with a game-high 21 points and Landon Carroll had 14 points.
But Oak Hill head coach Norm Persin expects Saturday's meeting to be more competitive against Tom Barrick's Eastern squad.
"Eastern is a totally different team than the one we faced in the first game of the season," he said. "We played a picture-perfect game. That's not going to happen again. They are too good of a basketball team.
"Either way, we are here and we have to make things happen. It's not going to be an easy win. It never is."
Eastern (21-3) advanced through the tournament with wins over Rock Hill (53-34) and Wellston (60-35) to win the sectional championship. The Eagles defeated Southeastern, 59-45, in a district semifinal last Saturday.
Oak Hill (21-3) played their best basketball of the season last weekend with a 68-52 win over Paint Valley in the district semifinals. They defeated Meigs 41-27 in the sectional championship game.
Both programs have similarities in playing style. They both play up-tempo and are strong on the boards. They both also have coaches with proven track records of success.
Barrick is in his third year as head coach at Eastern after coming out of retirement. He has accumulated more than 400 coaching victories in his career with stops at Portsmouth East and Wheelersburg.
He had 71 wins while he was at Portsmouth East and accumulated 339 wins at Wheelersburg. Barrick took the Pirates to the state final four three times and finished as the state runner-up in 1995.
Meanwhile, Persin has had success at every stop. He began his varsity-coaching career at Oak Hill for six years and Wilmington for two years. During those years, he won three conference championships,
For the next 21 years, Chesapeake High School became his home, where he won 16 league championships (12 consecutive) and 10 district championships. Five times, he led Chesapeake to the Regional Championship game. In 21 years, Chesapeake won 400 games and lost 85 for a .884 winning percentage.
Then in 2007, Persin returned to Oak Hill and in his first year at the helm, the Oaks won the district championship, the first in the school's history, as well as the first ever in Jackson County in boys' basketball. The following year, the Oaks reached the Regional Championship game and in 2009, the Oaks made history with a State Championship victory over Kalida.
Persin currently has 729 victories entering tonight's matchup against just 202 losses.
He was inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame joining greats like Bob Knight and Jerry Lucas in 2017.
Tonight's game will tip off at 8 p.m. at the Convocation Center and can be heard live on WCJO 97.7-FM and mixlr.com.
The winner of tonight's game will advance to the regional semifinals to take on the winner of Garaway and Ridgewood on Wednesday, Mar. 14 at 6:15 p.m.