BLOOMINGTON — James Morris' rebound basket near the end of the first half gave Central Catholic High School's basketball team a 14-point lead at the intermission Friday night.
The Saints weren't satisfied.
"We've always been a second-half team," said Central senior Jack Gilmore. "The first half was kind of slow, but coach (Jason Welch) got us in the second half to keep it going and keep the tempo. We knew we were more in shape than they were and we could keep running."
The top-seeded and No. 8-ranked Saints ran off the first 21 points of the third quarter against seventh-seed Heyworth in the Class 2A Central Catholic Regional championship game. Gilmore scored 26 points and Morris contributed 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Saints rolled to an 88-54 victory over the Hornets.
The victory improved Central's record to 22-6. The Saints advanced to the Maroa-Forsyth Sectional where they'll meet Decatur St. Teresa, a team they beat by 30 last month, in a 7 p.m. semifinal Tuesday.
Heyworth (16-11) used a 3-pointer by Tate Eller with 1:40 left in the first half to close within 30-20. But the Hornets allowed Luke Yoder's rebound basket off a missed free throw before committing a turnover and allowed Morris to score for a 36-22 lead at the break.
"It could have tetered either way (before half)," said Central coach Jason Welch. "We were able to get a few baskets there and space it out a little bit and got a little more momentum."
What followed was a 34-point Saints blitz in the third quarter started by 3-pointers by Gilmore, Yoder and Austyn Ellison and later turned into a layup line fueled by some slick passes. When Elijah Davis swished a 3-pointer to end the quarter, the Saints were in full command with a 70-37 lead.
"We are very unselfish. We just want to get the win," said Morris. "It doesn't matter about the stats or anything. We want to keep moving forward on this journey."
Heyworth coach Tom Eller said the way the first half ended left his team deflated in the locker room.
"They came out in the second half and offensively they hit shots. That really got us down," said Coach Eller. "We took a couple punches early (in the game) and bounced back. But then after half we took a couple punches and didn't bounce back. When you go on a run like that, we weren't able to recover from it."
Yoder added 10 points and seven rebounds, while Ellison scored nine points and Tommy Nelson eight as the Saints shot 54.2 percent from the field.
Tate Eller and Jeremy Witten paced the Hornets with 15 points each and Matt Schultz added 13. Heyworth shot 37 percent from the field and was outrebounded, 39-30. The Hornets made 4 of 6 free throws, all in the second half, while the Saints were 17 of 23 at the line.
Welch, who led the Saints to the 2014 Class 2A state title, knows everything gets much more difficult now. Central also rolled in its first game Tuesday with a 103-40 rout over Maroa-Forsyth.
"Ultimately you have to understand your assignments and make sure you're very clear on sets and mentally make sure you understand you can't have a hiccup or letdown because good teams right now will make you pay," he said. "It's more about that mental side of it and staying focused for all 32 minutes."
Morris believes the Saints are ready for what lies ahead. St. Teresa was shorthanded in the first meeting against Central.
"We're going to practice hard these next two days and give it all we have," he said.