With his team tied with Twinsburg after three quarters in a Division I state semifinal March 16 at Ohio State, Reynoldsburg High School girls basketball coach Jack Purtell didn't waver from his belief that the Raiders were about to earn the biggest victory in program history.

With his team tied with Twinsburg after three quarters in a Division I state semifinal March 16 at Ohio State, Reynoldsburg High School girls basketball coach Jack Purtell didn't waver from his belief that the Raiders were about to earn the biggest victory in program history.

"We felt good," Purtell said. "I thought we were going to win."

After a turnover and a missed layup, the Raiders found themselves with a six-point deficit and the Tigers swooped in for the kill.

While Reynoldsburg's season ended with a 49-41 loss - Twinsburg went on to win its second consecutive title - Africentric nearly was bitten by similar miscues in the Division III state final March 17 against Anna.

Leading 57-51 with 45.8 seconds remaining, the Nubians gave away their chance to ice the game.

Instead, Anna's Natalie Billing converted a three-point play with 35 seconds left to cut it to 57-54. Then, teammate Erica Huber got a steal on the next inbounds play and converted a three-point play to send the game to overtime.

Africentric went on to win 70-66 to capture its third state title since 2007, but those two possessions easily could have led to heartbreak.

As both the Raiders and Nubians learned, a rough sequence at the wrong time can become magnified in games of this magnitude.

Not making it easier to stomach for Purtell and three-year regulars such as Destini Cooper, Yamonie Jenkins and Aliyah Zantt is how painfully close the Raiders have come twice in the last three seasons.

In a 2010 state semifinal against eventual champion Canton McKinley, Reynoldsburg got a tying layup with 1:17 left and had chances to win in regulation before losing 42-39 in overtime.

Against Twinsburg, Reynoldsburg can point to things such as its 14-for-44 shooting performance and being outrebounded 34-22 as contributing factors.

The statistical differences in that McKinley loss, however, were less substantial considering the Raiders actually outshot the Bulldogs from the floor.

Africentric coach Will McKinney credited his team's victory to factors such as its difficult schedule and that it didn't overplay the significance of the state title game.

The Nubians certainly were as prepared as any team in Division III, considering teams they lost to this season included eventual Division II state champion Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown and area Division I powers such as Olentangy Orange and Northland.

But no one can accuse the Raiders of not being prepared.

They opened with a 54-39 win over fellow state-semifinalist Toledo Notre Dame Academy on Nov. 26, traveled to Florida for a trio of games over the holiday break and beat regional runner-up Mason 42-35 on Jan. 14.

Reynoldsburg also made it unscathed through what was considered central Ohio's premier league, the OCC-Ohio Division.

During overtime of the Division III state final, Anna missed four of its seven free throws and shot 3-for-11 from the floor while the Nubians made five of their first six shots to finally gain control.

It's those kinds of sequences that can make the difference, even for a team like Reynoldsburg that had passed every test until the Twinsburg game.

"We didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well, and at this stage, you've got to do everything," Purtell said. "I just think that when you get to the district championship level that everybody is going to be good. We wanted to beat the best, and you have to have a little bit of luck working in your favor."

The fact that the Raiders might have been unlucky probably isn't going to provide much comfort as they head into the offseason, but there is plenty of evidence to indicate that they're closer than ever before to winning their first state championship.

They also can take solace, as Africentric proved last weekend, that preparation complemented by having a few bounces go the right way can lead to a win on the biggest stage.