Despite entering the Division II district tournament at just 10-12, the Marion-Franklin High School boys basketball team believed it was only a few plays away from having a much better record.
That mentality helped the Red Devils put together a run to their first district championship since 1993.
In a district final March 8 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, 11th-seeded Marion-Franklin took control early, outscoring 13th-seeded DeSales 21-8 in the first quarter on its way to a 56-34 win to advance to the regional tournament for just the fourth time in program history.
"We've been preaching all year that it's about mental toughness," second-year coach Scott Williams said. "Out of our 22 (regular-season) games, we lost a lot of games by one to seven points and only got blown out two times. We're a young team coming into the second year of a program and we knew we weren't going to grow over night."
Marion-Franklin was 14-12 before playing Kettering Alter in a regional semifinal March 14 at Kettering Fairmont. The winner plays Dayton Dunbar or Cincinnati Hughes in a regional final at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Fairmont.
The regional champion will face Sandusky Perkins, Watterson, Cleveland Benedictine or Lima Bath in a state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. March 21 at Ohio State. The state final is set for 1:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
Against DeSales, senior guard Dominique Carter and junior guard John Montgomery both had 11 points, junior guard Demetrius Walker scored nine and sophomore forward Tony Anderson added eight.
The Red Devils opened the postseason by beating 25th-seeded Jonathan Alder 79-34 on Feb. 23 at home and traveled to upset fifth-seeded Hartley 51-48 in a second-round game Feb. 28. They then held off a late rally to beat 12th-seeded Beechcroft 61-60 in a district semifinal March 6 at Newark.
Another key player in the Red Devils' tournament run has been senior forward Marquiez Lawrence, who is averaging 12 points and eight rebounds and made first-team all-City League-South Division and honorable mention all-district.
He had had six points against DeSales and 14 points and 14 rebounds against Hartley.
"We knew (a district title run) was possible," Lawrence said. "Everybody doubted us and we (had) a chip on our shoulder. We know what it's like to face adversity."
Africentric girls back at state
Africentric girls basketball coach Will McKinney is expecting his team to be challenged in the Division III state tournament.
The Nubians, who won Division IV state titles in 2007 and '09 and captured the Division III championship last year, will meet Beverly Fort Frye in a semifinal at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at Ohio State.
Last season, Africentric defeated Fort Frye 66-54 in a regional semifinal as 2012 graduate Kiyanna Black had 22 points, four assists and two steals.
The Nubians beat Archbold 60-42 in a regional final March 9 at Lexington to improve to 21-5. That same day at Logan, Fort Frye defeated Johnstown 58-43 in a regional final to improve to 25-3 and set up the rematch.
The Africentric-Fort Frye winner will play Anna (24-4) or Orrville (26-2) in the state final at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, March 16. Anna is in the state tournament for the third consecutive season.
"We played (Fort Frye) in the regional (tournament) last year and they return all of their kids," McKinney said. "It should be a real good game."
Against Johnstown, Fort Frye got 16 points from Morgan Liedtke, 11 from Taylor Buchanan, 10 from Micayla Hupp and eight from Diedra Combs. In the regional contest between the Nubians and Fort Frye last season, Combs scored 20 points and Buchanan had 14.
Although Black led a five-member senior class and scored 27 points in a 70-66 overtime win over Anna in the state championship game last season, senior post player Marley Hill and junior guards Ayrielle Stith, Kyra Jones, Darianne Seward, Alexis Parks and Sierra Harley all are back after being key players last season.
Against Archbold, Hill had 14 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, Stith had 12 points, six rebounds and five steals, Parks had 13 points, four assists and two steals and Harley had 11 points and three rebounds.
"They're just a lot more mature than last year," McKinney said. "My bench is a lot better. Alexis Parks, Kyra Jones and (sophomore guard) Dayunna Johnson have just been fantastic."
Eastmoor girls lose in regional semifinal
The Eastmoor Academy girls basketball team's season ended with a 54-36 loss to Dayton Chaminade Julienne in a Division II regional semifinal March 5 at Springfield.
Senior forward Tajanee Wells, who was named district Player of the Year in Division II, was held to six points.
Wells averaged a team-high 16 points, but the Warriors also got extensive minutes from sophomore guard Imani Hill, sophomore post player Anee Braswell and freshmen guards Amani Burke, Mahogany Merritt and Rahnia Price during their first district-title run since winning six in a row from 2005-10.
Hill averaged 10 points and Braswell averaged nine as both were honorable mention all-district.
Eastmoor finished 22-5 overall and placed second in the City-South at 12-2 behind Africentric (14-0).
Africentric boys fall in district final
The Africentric boys basketball team's hopes of making a third consecutive run to the state tournament ended with a 61-51 loss to fourth-seeded Danville in a Division IV district final March 6 at the Fairgrounds.
Senior guard Cyquil Tucker had 12 points and senior guard Trevon Saunders scored 11 for the top-seeded Nubians, who were outscored 20-11 in the third quarter. Danville made 18 of 22 free-throw attempts and forced 14 turnovers.
Africentric finished 22-4 overall, including a 55-53 overtime loss to Northland in the City League championship game Feb. 16 at East. This season marked the first time the Nubians have been in the City title game since 2005 when they beat Brookhaven 44-43 in overtime but later had to forfeit the win after it was determined that they had used an ineligible player.
Africentric loses five seniors in addition to Tucker and Saunders, including forward Kenny Robinson, who was first-team all-district.
The Nubians lost to Jackson Center 53-50 in a Division IV state semifinal last season and lost to Cincinnati Taft 63-50 in a Division III state semifinal in 2011.