Coach Kevin Martin sat down on a bench in the Johnstown-Monroe High School boys basketball team's locker room and exhaled before discussing the Johnnies' performance in a 51-47 loss to Granville.
They had just come up short of their first league title since 2006, falling to the visiting Blue Aces on Feb. 13 in a showdown of teams atop the LCL standings.
Granville finished 16-2 in the LCL, earning its first league title since tying Heath and Newark Catholic for the MSL-Ohio championship in 2011. The Johnnies finished second (15-3) and Newark Catholic was third (14-4).
"I can't be disappointed in where we are -- going 15-3 in a league like this," said Martin, whose team is 18-3 overall. "Night in and night out, you have to be playing your best basketball against these teams and we have done that.
"We kind of had a wake-up call the last time we played Granville (55-30 loss Dec. 17), but this is one of the most unselfish group of guys I have ever coached. They work hard and they play hard, just like they did (Feb. 13)."
Granville started the fourth quarter with a 10-2 run to lead 44-36 with 4 minutes 25 seconds to play. Will Orr, Kaden Welch and Justin Bush all hit 3-pointers in the final 3:44 for Johnstown, but it wasn't enough.
"I thought we played well in the half-court defense, but they got some points in transition that hurt us," Martin said. "Offensively, I think we were a little stagnant in our ball movement. (The Blue Aces) were playing off some of our guys and it took us a while to take advantage of that."
The Blue Aces left Jake Taylor open during the third quarter and he took advantage, scoring eight of his 12 points. Cody Farley added 10 points with a pair of 3-pointers.
Orr was averaging 18.3 points and Jason Carter was averaging 15.3 entering the game, but Orr was limited to 10 points and Carter scored six.
"We had (28) points from Jake Taylor, Cody Farley and Kaden Welch between them, which is great," Martin said. "If we can get that from them and also get Will Orr and Jason Carter with their normal production, we'll be tough to beat."
On Feb. 11, Orr scored 22 points and passed 1,000 for his career in a 58-42 win over Heath. Carter added 20 points.
On Feb. 7, Orr scored 22 points with four 3-pointers and Carter had 19 points to lead a 56-46 win over Licking Heights.
Johnstown closes the regular season Tuesday, Feb. 18, against visiting Columbus Academy.
The Johnnies are seeded fourth in the Division II district tournament behind top-seeded Watterson, Brookhaven and Granville. They have a first-round bye and open Feb. 25 at home against 11th-seeded Caledonia River Valley or 17th-seeded Mifflin.
Johnstown is in the same bracket as the Blue Aces. The teams could meet in a district final March 7 in the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
"You can't look that far ahead, but that would happen if the seeds hold true," Martin said. "We have two difficult (tournament) games to get that far."
Wrestlers finish 11th at St. Charles
The wrestling team competed in a Division II sectional tournament Feb. 15 at Madison Plains.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district Friday, Feb. 21, and Saturday, Feb. 22, at Uhrichsville Claymont, where the top four in each weight class qualify for state Feb. 27-March 1 at Ohio State.
Last season in the Division III district tournament, Clayton Bullard was third at 195 pounds to advance to state.
On Feb. 8, the Johnnies finished 11th (77.5) of 16 teams in the Nye Cardinal Classic at St. Charles behind champion Lancaster (269). Bullard won the title at 195, going 5-0 with four pins and a technical fall.
"Clayton is wrestling mean right now," coach Bob Fresch said. "He's been getting meaner for the past few weeks and is really ready to go (in the postseason)."
Hayden Bullard was second at 132, going 4-1 with two pins. At 152, Colton Hiles finished sixth after going 1-3 with one pin.
Also competing were Aaron Davis (220, 1-3), Seth Jackson (145, 0-3), Trevor McGee (138, 1-3), Dakota Ramey (120, 0-4), Ryan Thacker (113, 0-2) and Vince Walls (126, 0-4).
"Now comes the grind," Fresch said. "With the sectional at Madison Plains and the district at Claymont, it only gets tougher from here."
Girls basketball team set to open tourney
The girls basketball team is 20-2 overall and the top seed in the Division II district tournament.
The Johnnies open the postseason Monday, Feb. 17, at home against 22nd-seeded Marion-Franklin. The teams have not played this season.
The winner plays 21st-seeded Linden-McKinley in the second round Thursday, Feb. 20, at the home of the better seed. Johnstown has not played the Panthers this season.
The second-round winner advances to a district semifinal Feb. 26 at New Albany against seventh-seeded Brook-haven, 10th-seeded Buckeye Valley and 14th-seeded Columbus East. The district final is March 1 at New Albany.
Last season, the Johnnies won their first district championship, defeating Fredericktown 43-41 in overtime in the title game. They lost to Beverly Fort Frye 58-43 in a Division III regional final.
The Johnnies closed the regular season with a pair of LCL victories to finish 16-2 in the league, second behind Newark Catholic (17-1).
Natalie Carpenter scored 18 points to lead a 62-45 win over Granville 62-45 on Feb. 11. Paige Cannon scored 14 points, Maddi Lusk had eight and Laiken Valentine added seven.
Carpenter scored 22 points as Johnstown defeated Heath 86-41 on Feb. 8. Makenzie Spang had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Cannon had 15 points. Kerrigan Williams had 12 points and Valentine had 12 points with seven steals and seven assists.
Though 21 games, Carpenter was averaging 19.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 steals. Cannon was averaging 15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 3.2 steals, and Spang was averaging 13.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.1 assists.
Williams was averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds, and Valentine was averaging 6.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.5 steals. Lusk was averaging 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds.