During its current six-game winning streak, the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team's defense began to get a boost from a maturing offense.
Although the Lions beat 23rd-seeded Walnut Ridge 67-25 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 15 and followed with a 61-48 win over 25th-seeded Westerville Central in the second round Feb. 19, they know there could be tougher times coming offensively.
If Gahanna is to win a third consecutive district title, it likely will do so based on how its defense dictates the action.
"It's going to boil down to putting pressure on the basketball," coach Rick Hauser said. "It's taken us a good half of a season to play defense the way we need to play."
Gahanna, which is 17-7, will make its 10th consecutive appearance in a district semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Bloom-Carroll against 12th-seeded Hilliard Bradley.
With a win, the 11th-seeded Lions would play top-seeded Reynoldsburg or 19th-seeded Westland in a district final at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Ohio Dominican.
The district champion plays Northland, Westerville North, Mount Vernon or Pickerington North in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at Otterbein. The regional final is March 7 at the same site.
Gahanna, which hasn't played Bradley or Westland, began its winning streak by beating Reynoldsburg 35-24 on Jan. 28.
Bradley beat 17th-seeded Westerville South 52-48 on Feb. 20 to set up the district semifinal.
Against Central, junior guard Sydney Stokes scored 18 points and freshman guard Sam Jenkins added 13. Gahanna led 23-5 after one quarter.
Stokes missed four consecutive free throws early in the fourth as the Warhawks closed to 47-40, but she then made three baskets and a foul shot to help the Lions extend the lead to 54-44.
"We were going hard, and for the most part when we needed to cause a turnover, we did," Jenkins said. "As long as we work as a team and push ourselves hard, it all comes together."
"Our defense was there when we needed it," Hauser said.
Bradley is 18-6 and has one of central Ohio's better inside tandems in juniors Meredith Miller (14 points per game, 7.5 rebounds) and Ashley Hummel (10.5 ppg, 7 rebounds), who are 5-foot-11 and 6-1, respectively.
Senior guard Christy Tieman is a three-year starter and senior guard Jenna Fodor is a two-year starter.
According to Hauser, seniors Trinity Hunter (post player) and Morgan Ross (forward) and junior Rachel Browne (post player) will play key roles for the Lions.
"They've got a post player (Miller) who seems to be a pretty good defensive player," Hauser said. "Rachel, Morgan and Trinity will have their hands full."
Reynoldsburg won its fourth consecutive OCC-Ohio Division title and enters its district semifinal at 20-4. Westland edged 18th-seeded New Albany 40-39 on Feb. 19 and enters its matchup against the Raiders at 13-10.
The Raiders, who beat Gahanna 63-41 on Dec. 17 in the first round of league play, have won five in a row since losing the second-round matchup to the Lions.
"We've been to district semis 10 straight years," Hauser said. "What got us there is the improvement in players like Rachel and Sam, and (sophomore guard Yasmin Norman) has improved so much defensively. (Senior guard) Chandlar (Helms) has been solid all year and Sydney has been able to play defense without getting into foul trouble."