For the Eastern Ramblers, it was the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title game, but to the Ballou Knights, it was just one more test in preparation for the Washington, D.C. City Title Game. Ballou trounced Eastern 103-89 on March 7 at Coolidge High School to claim their second consecutive DCIAA title and earn their way to the title game at the Verizon Center on March 14.

Ballou will face the winner of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs, which will host their title game on March 9 at American University. But if Ballou (30-4) carries the high-caliber of play they’ve shown all season into the title game, it might not matter who they play.

Second-ranked Ballou has won 16 straight games, including an upset win over highly-touted Montrose Christian in mid-February. Ballou ran through their DCIAA playoffs, scoring 182 points in two games, including 62 points from leading scorer Donte Thomas.

Thomas, a senior, scored 32 points against Eastern (15-11) in a variety of ways: from three-point range, from inside the paint, from the free throw line and flying in on fast breaks. When Thomas wasn’t scoring at will against Eastern, his teammates were. Senior guard Zalmico Harmon’s 15 points were highlighted by his three three-pointers, and Christian Leach and Antwan Pittman combined for 41 points.

While Thomas had plenty of help from his teammates, Eastern’s Phillip Hawkins embarked on his title mission nearly solo. The senior poured in a game-high 39 points, knocked down three three-pointers and went 8-for-8 on the free throw line. As Ballou’s lead ballooned to as much as 25 points in the second half, Thomas and Hawkins took turns one-upping each other as they put on a scoring duel for the fans.

Whenever Thomas scored, Hawkins would race back down the court to add another basket to his total. Fans applauded Hawkins’ hustle and performance but, in the end, they cheered much louder for Ballou’s division title. Ballou lost 55-48 in last year’s City Title game to DeMatha but with the addition of newcomers Harmon and Leach, Ballou knows what they have to do to avoid another title loss.

“We’re just going to keep working the exact same way we’ve been working since the end of last year,” Ballou head coach Jenkins Dormu said. “We think that if we work hard, our team is going to triumph once we get in there.”