The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team's regular-season finale Feb. 8 wasn't one the Lions enjoyed, and it was especially unpleasant for senior forward Maddison Blackwell.
That night, Pickerington North junior forward Brittany Johnson scored nine fourth-quarter points, went 8-for-9 from the free-throw line and made four 3-pointers to lead her team to a 51-46 victory.
Johnson scored many of her points against Blackwell, who had 10 points but also got an ear full from coach Rick Hauser for the performance.
Determined not to let the same thing occur in a Division I district final March 2 against the ninth-seeded Panthers at Jonathan Alder, Blackwell helped the second-seeded Lions limit Johnson to 13 points and no 3-pointers.
Blackwell also was responsible for one of the game's most important plays when Johnson was whistled for a foul against her with 2.5 seconds remaining and the Lions leading 49-46.
Gahanna held on to win by that score, giving it a fourth district title under Hauser and its third in four seasons.
"I knew I had to play tight on her," Blackwell said of the charge. "She was swinging her arms and I knew to fall back. It was a very important play. The previous time we played them, Johnson had a lot of 3s, so I knew I had to keep her in check the whole entire game. It feels great."
Gahanna, which beat North 63-46 for a district title last season before falling to Northland 53-38 in a regional semifinal, improved to 22-4.
The Lions advanced to play Olentangy Orange in a regional semifinal March 5 at Otterbein University. The winner plays Reynoldsburg or North Canton Hoover in a regional final at 7:15 p.m. Friday, March 8, at the same site.
The regional champion will play Middleburg Heights Midpark, Twinsburg, Solon or Mentor in a state semifinal at 6 p.m. March 15 at Ohio State. The state final is 8:30 p.m. March 16 at the same site.
Senior guard Quiera Lampkins finished with 16 points, senior guard Chrishna Butler had 10 and senior post player Zenobia Bess added seven against North. The Lions led 26-16 by halftime and 33-21 after three quarters before the Panthers' late run.
North senior forward Christy Macioce, who made the winning 3-pointer during the closing seconds of a 54-53 victory over Olentangy in a district semifinal Feb. 28, was held to six points. She missed an unbalanced 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
"Shutting Christy Macioce down and working as a team was what we wanted to do," Butler said. "We lost to them the last time we played and they were saying they wanted to take back the district title that was theirs. We're trying to make it farther than we did last year."
Gahanna, which also beat North 50-42 on Jan. 8 in the first round of OCC-Ohio Division play, defeated Dublin Scioto 49-38 on Feb. 28 in a district semifinal at Jonathan Alder to set up the third meeting with the Panthers.
Butler had 12 points, Bess scored 11 and Blackwell added nine against Scioto.
Gahanna would get a third shot at Reynoldsburg if both teams won their regional semifinals. The Raiders beat Upper Arlington 62-19 in a district final March 2 to improve to 24-2.
Hoover competed in a regional semifinal for the first time since 2007 after beating Uniontown Lake 39-36 in a district final March 2 to improve to 21-4.
Reynoldsburg led 17-5 after the first quarter of a 54-44 win over Gahanna on Dec. 18 and 20-7 at the end of one period of a 57-43 victory over the Lions on Jan. 29.
While Lampkins made first-team all-district and Butler made the third team for Gahanna, junior post player Alyssa Rice made first-team all-district, senior guard Yamonie Jenkins made the second team and senior forward Shiloh Murphy made the third for Reynoldsburg.
"We go with the philosophy that you put your team in tough positions during the season so they can be ready for the tournament," Hauser said. "That's why we try to schedule the way that we do. Our league does that and our non-league is also tough."