The Gahanna Lincoln High School boys basketball team used the disappointment of missing out on the OCC-Ohio Division championship to help fuel a run to its third Division I district title in four seasons.
As the ninth-seeded Lions left the court following a 64-54 win over 13th-seeded Newark in a district final March 9 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, they quickly shifted gears to their next goal.
"It feels really satisfying, but then again we don't want to stop here," senior guard Aaron Jackson said. "We want to make it to the big show and make it to state."
To continue an eight-game winning streak that included a 42-38 victory over eighth-seeded Reynoldsburg in a district semifinal March 6 at Westerville Central, Gahanna will have to defeat a third consecutive opponent from the OCC-Ohio.
The Lions are 20-5 entering their matchup against defending state champion Pickerington Central at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in a regional semifinal at the Fairgrounds.
Gahanna swept Newark and split league games with Reynolds-burg and Central this season.
The Lions ended up fifth in the OCC-Ohio at 9-5 but just one game behind champions Grove City, Newark, Reynoldsburg and Central at 10-4.
The Central-Gahanna winner will face Northland or Canton Timken for a regional title at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Fairgrounds.
The regional champion will play North Canton Hoover, Mentor, Shaker Heights or North Royalton at 5:15 p.m. March 22 at Ohio State in a state semifinal, and the state final is 8:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
"This has been torture," coach Tony Staib said of the string of league rematches during the postseason. "It's been like an OCC-Ohio tournament for us. I haven't slept in a week and now we get the defending state champions. I guess I won't be sleeping this week either."
Central improved to 19-7 by beating Olentangy Orange 62-55 in a district final March 9.
The Tigers won 59-46 on Jan. 11 at Gahanna, but the Lions didn't have Jackson, senior guard Troy Mundy or junior guard Manny Powell because of a disciplinary issue.
On Feb. 15 at Central, Jackson had 20 points, senior guard Ronnie Stokes Jr. scored 16 and Powell and junior forward Javon Bess each had 13 to lead Gahanna to a 72-62 win. That outcome kept the Tigers from winning the league title outright.
The first matchup marked the first time Bess faced his former teammates after attending Central the last two years.
In last year's state final, Bess scored three points in 19 minutes as Central beat Toledo Whitmer 45-40. He transferred to Gahanna in the offseason.
The only players back for Central after playing in the state final are junior forward Jae'Sean Tate, senior post player Darryl LeVert and junior guard Connor Kern.
Tate, who has verbally committed to Ohio State, scored 24 points in the first matchup this season against Gahanna and 32 in the rematch.
"I just remember how hard we played against (the Tigers) and how hard we battled against them," Jackson said.
Northland was 26-0 and Timken was 17-9 entering their regional semifinal March 13.
Northland, which was No. 1 in the final state poll, features senior forward Armani Towns, junior guards Shemar Waugh and Derek McKeithen, junior forward Jaylen Tucker and freshman forward Seth Towns. It beat Olentangy Liberty 52-48 in a district final March 9.
Timken missed the front end of three 1-and-1s during the final two minutes but edged Barberton 38-36 in a district final March 9 as freshman guard LePear Toles made a 15-footer with 20 seconds left.
During Gahanna's district final win, it led 17-10 after the first quarter and 38-22 at halftime. Newark got as close as 53-45 with 2:47 remaining, but the Lions answered with a 5-0 run.
Bess finished with 14 points and seven rebounds and junior post player Keith Scowden had 12 points and seven rebounds. Gahanna outrebounded Newark 34-20.
"Our guards did an incredible job," Scowden said. "It feels great."