The opportunity to reach one of its biggest goals finally was within reach, and the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys basketball team wasn't about to squander it.
Because Grove City edged Newark 50-49 on Feb. 11, the Lions' hopes of earning at least a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship still were alive as they tipped off against Pickerington Central about 8:45 p.m. Feb. 14 at Otterbein University.
It took a basket by Manny Powell with 8.4 seconds left and a stop on the defensive end by Jenisys Battle on the ensuing possession to help Gahanna hold on for a 73-72 win that created a three-way tie for the title at 11-3 with Newark and the Tigers.
Grove City (9-5), Reynoldsburg (8-6), Groveport (4-10), Pickerington North (2-12) and Lancaster (0-14) rounded out the standings.
"Grove City kind of got us back in, but I'm proud of our team for hanging in there all year," coach Tony Staib said. "Most of the year we were always a game back, but we just kept hanging around. I'm happy for our seniors to get the OCC championship."
The Lions take a 19-3 overall record into their Division I district tournament opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at home against 42nd-seeded Dublin Scioto.
If second-seeded Gahanna wins that game, it plays host to 39th-seeded Logan at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25. The second-round winner plays 14th-seeded Thomas Worthington, 19th-seeded Groveport or 27th-seeded St. Charles in a district semifinal March 4 at Marysville.
Javon Bess scored 24 points, Nick Ward had 19 and Powell added 13 against Central, which beat the Lions 62-58 on Jan. 10. The Tigers played without Ohio State signee Jae'Sean Tate, who is out for the season with an injury, but Rodney Culver scored 26 points and Connor Kern had 25.
Kern had a hand from Battle in his face as he missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"The last (time we played the Tigers) they got too many wide-open shots," Bess said. "We said we've got to lock them down this time. It feels great to win this."
Scioto enters the tournament on a two-game winning streak but with a 4-18 record. The Irish haven't made it past the second round since they won a 2009 district title.
Hockey team makes third round for first time
Since competing in its first district tournament in 2003, the hockey team has had its season end in the first round three times and has gone 0-8 in second-round games.
Those numbers were on the Lions' mind as they celebrated a 2-1 win over Springboro in a second-round game Feb. 16 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"We just played the best two games we've played all year, and it happened to be our last two games," coach J.J. Stallsworth said.
The ninth-seeded Lions play third-seeded Dublin Jerome in a third-round game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Ice Haus, with the winner to play second-seeded Olentangy Orange or sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district semifinal at 5:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at the same site. The district final is March 1 at the Ice Haus.
Gahanna, which is 18-11-2, lost to Jerome 10-0 on Dec. 21.
The Lions opened the postseason with a 4-2 win over 12th-seeded Cincinnati St. Xavier on Feb. 15 at the Ice Haus.
Then against eighth-seeded Springboro, the Lions built a 2-0 lead and hung on. Evan Kraus scored off a pass from Skyy Goebbel in the first period.
With 1 minute, 54 seconds left in the second, Gahanna's Mason Settle was called for a five-minute penalty and a 10-minute misconduct, while a Springboro player was whistled for a two-minute penalty.
With Gahanna still playing a man down with 12:54 left in the third, Jake Chobany was attempting to clear the puck from his own blue line and was surprised when he saw teammates and fans cheering after it had gotten past Springboro goaltender Weston Wantz.
Springboro cut it to 2-1 less than a minute later, but Lions goaltender Chris Henestofel finished with 31 saves to help preserve the win, his program-record 17th.
"This means a lot to us," Chobany said. "It's a big boost for the team. We just need to get more shots and be the more physical team (against Jerome)."
Girls basketball team wins tourney opener
A strong end to the regular season continued during a 67-25 win over Walnut Ridge in the girls basketball team's Division I district tournament opener Feb. 15 at home.
The 11th-seeded Lions had won five in a row before playing 25th-seeded Westerville Central in a second-round game Feb. 19.
Against 23rd-seeded Walnut Ridge, which finished 12-8, Sam Jenkins had 12 points and Yasmin Norman and Sydney Stokes each scored 10 as the Lions improved to 16-7.
"I told the kids that Walnut Ridge is a very good basketball team," coach Rick Hauser said. "They only lost to Eastmoor (Academy 64-61 on Jan. 10) and we only beat Eastmoor (40-35 on Dec. 28). I knew (Taylor) Kilgore-Barr could score and is one of the best free-throw shooters around. We had (Stokes) on her and I think it was one of the best defensive games she's played."
The Gahanna-Central winner plays 12th-seeded Hilliard Bradley or 17th-seeded Westerville South in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Bloom-Carroll.
The Lions are the second-highest seed in their bracket behind top-seeded Reynoldsburg, which they split with during the regular season.
"We picked a couple things that we've got to get better at, and we've got to play better help defense," Hauser said.
Five wrestlers advance to district tourney
The wrestling team will have five competitors in the Division I district tournament Friday, Feb. 21, and Saturday, Feb. 22, at Hilliard Darby.
Senior Nick Nader enters as a No. 1 seed at heavyweight after capturing a sectional title Feb. 15 at Pickerington Central. He is 42-6 overall.
Nader, senior Jordan Sprunger (third at 160 pounds, 28-15 overall) and sophomore Doland Martin (third at 170, 28-15) also were district qualifiers a year ago.
Junior Andy Chau (fourth at 195, 24-27) and sophomore Tanner Harding (fourth at 145, 32-18) will make their first district appearances.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district advance to the state tournament Feb. 27-March 1 at Ohio State.
The Lions finished seventh (114) of 11 teams at sectional behind champion Teays Valley (229). Also placing were senior David Dembroski (fifth at 152) and sophomores Dylan Ryther (sixth at 120) and Zach McDougle (fifth at 132).
Bowling team to begin postseason
The boys and girls bowling teams open the postseason Friday, Feb. 21, in the Division I sectional tournament at Eastland Lanes.
The top 20 teams and top 20 individuals in both the boys and girls tournaments advance to district March 1 at Eastland Lanes.