The Canal Winchester High School boys basketball team is about to compete in the Division I district tournament for the first time.

The Canal Winchester High School boys basketball team is about to compete in the Division I district tournament for the first time.

But according to senior forward Austin Whitlatch, the Indians enter their first-round game against ninth-seeded Olentangy Orange at 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at Marysville with a lot of confidence after winning four consecutive contests for the first time this season.

The winner plays 15th-seeded Reynoldsburg in the second round at 6 p.m. March 1 at Marysville.

Seeded 30th, Canal Winchester began the winning streak with a 45-39 victory over Circleville on Feb. 7. It then defeated Teays Valley 46-30 on Feb. 11 and beat Hamilton Township 76-25 on Feb. 14 before defeating Fairfield Union 60-46 on Feb. 17 to improve to 10-10.

"We've had some ups and downs, but our chemistry is getting better and we've got a lot of confidence in ourselves right now," Whitlatch said. "Teams may overlook us because we're a new Division I team and because of our record, but we know we can win games when we play well."

Orange defeated Delaware 63-46 on Feb. 17 to improve to 15-5, as 6-foot-3 senior forward Andy Bosley had 25 points and 6-1 junior guard Nick Deitsch scored 20. Other key players for the Pioneers are 5-11 senior guard Matt Kurelic and 6-4 junior post player Tyler Dillard.

"They're real explosive offensively with three or four kids who can really score the ball," coach Kent Riggs said. "They get a lot of their offense off their defense, so we need to handle the ball against their pressure."

Whitlatch said the Indians will need to continue playing strong man-to-man defense to slow down the Pioneers' leading scorers. He said Canal Winchester has played its best defense of the season during its current winning streak.

The contests against Circleville, Teays Valley and Hamilton Township represented the three lowest point totals allowed by the Indians this season.

"We don't play a lot of zone defense, we mostly play hard man-to-man defense," Whitlatch said. "Everyone just needs to continue to do the little things right because we're forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets out of them."

Whitlatch said the Indians will try to push the ball and score in transition against Orange.

Junior guard Thomas Nolan was averaging a team-high 13.4 points through 19 games, followed by sophomore point guard Shemar Waugh (12.5), Whitlatch (8.5) and senior forward Alex Fox (5.6).

"When we get out and run, we tend to score more easy buckets," said Whitlatch, whose team was seeded fourth in Division II last season when it was upset by Watterson 39-37 in overtime in its tournament opener. "When we're not running, it feels like we're slowing down, so we need to run and keep converting our chances."

Canal Winchester finished 9-5 in the MSL-Buckeye Division to tie Logan Elm for second, behind Bloom-Carroll (14-0) and ahead of Amanda-Clearcreek (7-7), Circleville (6-8), Teays Valley (6-8), Fairfield Union (5-9) and Hamilton Township (0-14).

•The girls basketball team lost to sixth-seeded Gahanna 74-32 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 15 at Hilliard Davidson.

The Indians, who were competing in Division I for the first time, finished 5-16 overall.

Gahanna, which improved to 15-6, advanced to play Olentangy Liberty in the second round Feb. 21.

Chrishna Butler scored 12 points to lead the Lions, with Maddison Blackwell and Quiera Lampkins adding 11 and 10 points, respectively. Freshman forward Raven Hamilton and freshman guard Taylor Thompson each scored seven points to pace the Indians.

"This game was a wake-up call, like 'welcome to Division I basketball,' because it's a different level," coach Gary Burke said. "Our kids were intimidated and we had 12 turnovers in the first quarter alone. We played hard, but we made too many mistakes to beat a good team like Gahanna."

The Indians went 4-10 in the MSL-Buckeye to place sixth, behind Fairfield Union (13-1), Logan Elm (12-2), Teays Valley (11-3), Bloom-Carroll (7-7) and Amanda-Clearcreek (5-9) and ahead of Circleville (2-12) and Hamilton Township (2-12).

"I think the league will be even stronger next year, so we've got to get better," Burke said.

The Indians will lose two senior starters in guards Katie Hahn and Carrie Strawser.

Five players who started multiple games are expected to return in Hamilton, Thompson, junior point guard Kaleigh Whitlatch, junior guard Marci Browning and junior post player Sarah Miles.

Whitlatch averaged a team-high 9.6 points, followed by Strawser (9.4), Hahn (5.8), Miles (5.8), Thompson (5.0) and Hamilton (4.7).

"Our seniors did an excellent job and left a foundation for us to build on, and we have a good core to build around for next year," Burke said. "We made lots of progress and played our best basketball at the end of the year.

"We learned how to play hard and now we need to learn how to finish games."

•Competing in the Division I district swimming and diving meet Feb. 17 and 18 at Ohio State, senior Sam Decker won the 50-yard freestyle in a team-record 20.89 seconds ahead of Westerville Central's Gabe Whitaker (21.2).

Decker also finished fourth in the 100 free in 47.14, qualifying in both events for the state meet, which will be held Thursday, Feb. 23, through Saturday, Feb. 25, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.

"Sam's time in the 50 free was really good and his time in the 100 free was not so good," coach Julie Pastor said.

Decker is seeded first in the 50 free and 15th in the 100 free at state.

The top two finishers in each swimming event at district automatically qualified for state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on district times statewide.

Last year in the Division II state meet, Decker won the 100 free in a team-record 46.1 to become the first Indians swimmer to win a state title. Columbus Academy's William Rosler (46.13) was runner-up.

Decker also finished third in the 50 free (20.91) behind Hunting Valley University School's Andrew Malone (20.5) and DeSales' Cooper Staton (20.75).

The boys team scored 48 points to finish 12th of the 57 teams that scored behind champion University School (377).

"Sam is shooting for first place in both of his events and he's got the potential to reach that goal," Pastor said.