The atmosphere reminded Dublin Scioto High School boys basketball coach Tony Bisutti of a Division I district final.
Not only were the fifth-seeded Irish playing host to the defending state champion in 10th-seeded Pickerington Central in the second round of the district tournament Feb. 27, they were playing for their first appearance in a district semifinal in four seasons.
Unfortunately for Scioto and its six seniors, including two who had started since their freshmen season in guards Josh Ashwill and Antonio Bisutti, the season ended that night with a 59-57 overtime loss to the Tigers.
The Irish finished 18-5 overall.
"It was a tough locker room (that) night," coach Bisutti said. "There was a lot of emotion with an ending like that. But like anything else, as time rolls on I think (the seniors) will appreciate this season."
Central freshman forward Jalen Tate scored what proved to be the winning basket when he hit a mid-range jump shot with 14 seconds left in overtime. Ashwill, who was playing despite having a fractured foot, missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
Ashwill scored a game-high 33 points. One of his five 3-pointers came with 35 seconds left in regulation and sent the game into overtime.
Central, which improved to 17-7 and advanced to play seventh-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district semifinal March 6, outrebounded the Irish 39-15. According to coach Bisutti, more than 20 of the Tigers' rebounds came at the offensive end.
"We had to fight back all night," coach Bisutti said. "We were concentrating on their front line, which was so much more athletic than ours. There were a lot of 50-50 balls which they got and that probably got them the lead more than anything else."
Because Scioto had a first-round bye, it went nearly two weeks between games. Prior to the postseason, the Irish had played six games in a 15-day stretch.
"We played as hard and as well as we were capable of playing," coach Bisutti said. "But I still think we were a beat-up team at the end."
Scioto, whose season included a 10-game winning streak, went 11-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to place second, behind Westerville North (14-0) and ahead of Westerville South (9-5), Hilliard Darby (7-6), Westerville Central (6-8), Worthington Kilbourne (4-10), Dublin Jerome (4-10) and Hilliard Bradley (0-13).
Scioto stuck with a seven-player rotation throughout the season. The rotation consisted of starters Ashwill, Bisutti and senior forwards Chase Sult, Travis Wehder and Travis Yates. Junior post player Zac Brown and junior guard Kalib Wallace also saw significant playing time coming off the bench.
Ashwill averaged 17.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists and was named second-team all-district and first-team all-league. Bisutti averaged 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and four assists and was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Wehder was special mention all-league and Yates was honorable mention all-league.
Girls team falls in district semifinal
The girls team reached a Division I district semifinal for the first time since 2010 before losing to second-seeded Gahanna 49-38 on Feb. 28 to finish 17-8 overall.
The 12th-seeded Irish led 20-19 at halftime but struggled against the Lions' full-court pressure in the second half, in which Scioto was outscored 30-18. Gahanna advanced to a regional semifinal after defeating ninth-seeded Pickerington North 49-46 in a district final March 2.
"(Gahanna was) bigger than us and we were right there the entire game," coach Matt Fisher said. "We just weren't getting any second-chance points in the second half and we put them at the line at the end of the game."
Senior guard Anna Buhigas led the Irish with 11 points.
Scioto opened the tournament with a 56-47 win over 19th-seeded Lancaster on Feb. 16 and defeated 18th-seeded Central Crossing 59-51 in the second round Feb. 20 before falling to Gahanna.
The Irish went 9-5 in the OCC-Cardinal to tie Jerome for second, behind Westerville North (14-0) and ahead of Bradley (8-6), Westerville Central (7-7), Westerville South (5-9), Darby (4-10) and Kilbourne (0-14).
Scioto loses five seniors in Buhigas, guard Casey Suich and forwards Katie Collins, Bri Pritchett and Kathleen Thorndal.
Buhigas averaged 15.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and five assists during the regular season and was third-team all-district and first-team all-league. She broke the program's single-game scoring record with 34 points in a 61-29 win over Kilbourne on Jan. 11.
Collins averaged 6.8 points and was special mention all-league.
Expected to return are junior forwards Alex Mielke and Rachel Willis, junior guard Abbie Moore and freshman guard Camille McLellan.
Mielke averaged nine points and was honorable mention all-league, and McLellan averaged 6.9 points.
"We have four people coming back with experience," Fisher said.
"We're going to have to find three more players from junior varsity who will step up. We haven't been a big team, and that's going to continue to be a problem for us."