In coach Nathan Clark's opinion, a second-half collapse that led to a 65-57 loss to Granville in a Division II first-round tournament game Feb. 23 at Lakewood wasn't a sign that the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team regressed.

In coach Nathan Clark's opinion, a second-half collapse that led to a 65-57 loss to Granville in a Division II first-round tournament game Feb. 23 at Lakewood wasn't a sign that the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team regressed.

"I still think we've got things going in the right direction," he said. "Finishing 14-7 (overall) isn't bad, you know."

In fact, the Hornets enjoyed their finest season under Clark.

They were voted the eighth seed in the tournament after reeling off 12 consecutive victories at one point, including a 41-39 come-from-behind win Jan. 26 at Grandview to avenge an earlier MSL-Cardinal Division loss.

The Hornets swept West Jefferson - which matched Licking Heights' 14 regular-season victories - during their streak, winning 71-59 on Jan. 7 and 70-63 on Feb. 8. They also prevailed 57-42 at traditional power Worthington Christian on Feb. 5. The Hornets' average margin of victory in those 12 games was 19.4 points.

"It was a heck of a run," Clark said.

The Hornets, who dropped their first four games this season, suffered their first loss since Dec. 14 when they fell 56-55 at home against Harvest Prep on Feb. 10. They rebounded to post two victories before losing to the Warriors again 63-61 in the regular-season finale on Feb. 18.

Harvest Prep, the top seed in the Division IV district tournament, went 14-0 to capture the MSL-Cardinal title as Licking Heights (11-3) finished second. They were followed by West Jefferson (10-4), Grandview 8-6), Fisher Catholic (5-9), Liberty Union (3-11), Millersport (3-11) and Berne Union (2-12).

Moments of immaturity proved to be the Hornets' downfall in the tournament against Granville, which also had won the regular-season meeting 64-55 on Dec. 7.

"When you're talking about 15- and 16-year-olds, well, they ride on emotions," Clark said. "Sometimes that's a good thing; tonight it wasn't."

Licking Heights led 33-15 at the half, and senior Brionne Mitchell's 3-pointer provided a 42-20 lead early in the third quarter. The Hornets were called for two technical fouls as the advantage evaporated, and they shot only 27 percent from the floor in the second half. The Blue Aces, meanwhile, surged ahead with a 33-6 run that gave them a 53-48 lead with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining. They made 22 of 28 free throws in the fourth quarter.

The Hornets will graduate three seniors including first-team all-league selection Deonte Holder, a guard who led the team in scoring for a second consecutive season by averaging 13.5 points. Point guard Eyob Tadele is departing, too.

Three starters, including sophomore Ronnie Dawson, are expected to return. He made second-team all-league and was the team's top rebounder despite being an undersized (6-foot) center. Among others, the Hornets also return 6-4 sophomore forward Darius Strickland and 6-3 freshman Alex Murphy, both of whom provided a spark off the bench.

"We should be even stronger inside next year with a little more experience," said Clark, who has a 42-33 record in four seasons. "We've got some key pieces to replace, though, especially Deonte's leadership. Next year may seem like a ways off, but the preparation starts now."

•Senior Tevyn Young, a 6-1, 230-pound defensive end, signed Feb. 24 to play football at Urbana. One of 26 recruits signed by the Blue Knights, he made first-team all-league and Division III first-team all-district last fall as the Hornets finished 7-3.

Young will be arriving at Urbana, which became a NCAA Division II member this school year, as the Great Lakes Valley Conference is preparing to award a football championship for the first time in 2012. The league will include nine football-playing schools by then.

•The wrestling team matched first-place Licking Valley's three individual champions during the Division II home sectional Feb. 19 as Tyler Price (112 pounds), Josiah Dunlap (135) and Jason Maynard (140) all won titles. But the Hornets, who placed seventh (117.5 points), couldn't match the overall depth that MSL-Ohio-champion Licking Valley (222.5) showed.

Kevin Yeager pinned his way into the title match at 171, including a pin in overtime against Licking Valley's Blake Owens in a semifinal, but he finished second while also advancing to the district meet Feb. 25-26 at Columbus East.

Maynard improved to 37-5, Price to 36-5, Dunlap to 20-4 and Yeager to 29-7. Charlie Howard, a senior, was a district alternate at 152 after placing fifth at sectional while improving to 23-19.

"Our big guns did what we expected," coach Bo Ramsey said. "I'm really disappointed we didn't get a fifth kid out, though.

"I think I may have underestimated the competition Charlie was going to have to beat (to advance). He could have folded after he lost the second time. He was down 10-2 (opposing Sherwon Wanzo of Columbus South) in the fifth-place match, but came back to pin the kid. If that was Charlie's last match, he went out with a really nice win."

AT A GLANCE

BOYS BASKETBALL

Record: 14-7, 11-3 (second) in MSL-Cardinal Seniors lost: Deonte Holder, Brionne Mitchell and Eyob Tadele Key returnees: Ronnie Dawson, Alex Murphy, Tyron Pack, Dewey Rice and Darius Strickland

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Licking Heights boys basketball and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Feb. 18 - Lost to Harvest Prep 63-61 in regular-season finale. Alex Murphy matched his season high with 16 points to lead the Hornets, who dropped two games against the league-champion Warriors by a combined three points. Feb. 23 - Lost to sixth-seeded Granville 65-57 in first round of Division II district tournament. Ronnie Dawson scored 15 points and Dewey Rice added 11 for the Hornets, who squandered a 22-point third-quarter lead.

Of note: The Hornets finished 14-7 overall and 11-3 (second) in the MSL-Cardinal.

WRESTLING

Feb. 19 - Finished seventh (117.5) at 13-team Division II home sectional behind champion Licking Valley (222.5) District qualifiers were Josiah Dunlap (135, 4-0, first), Jason Maynard (140, 4-0 first), Tyler Price (112, 4-0, first) and Kevin Yeager (171, 3-1, second). Also competing were Abdi Abdirashid (145, 0-2), Steven Clum (189, 0-2), Josh Derenburger (130, 0-2), Charlie Howard, 152, 2-2), A.J. Velasquez (215, 0-2) and Michael Zaky (heavyweight, 0-2). Feb. 25-26 - Qualifiers at district meet at Columbus East. The top four in each weight class advanced to state March 3-5 at Ohio State.

*MSL-Cardinal game