Coach Nathan Clark isn't all that surprised that the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team will play DeSales in the second round of the Division II district tournament.

Coach Nathan Clark isn't all that surprised that the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team will play DeSales in the second round of the Division II district tournament.

The fifth-seeded Hornets had a first-round bye after concluding the regular season with a 53-38 victory over Fisher Catholic on Feb. 17, improving to 18-2 overall while finishing first in the MSL-Cardinal Division at 13-1. The 14th-seeded Stallions advanced by upsetting eighth-seeded Buckeye Valley 66-42 in their postseason opener Feb. 22, improving to 10-11 as the Barons finished 14-7.

Licking Heights will meet the Stallions at 7:45 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at Heath.

"They play in a difficult league," Clark said of the CCL. "They play Watterson twice every year and Hartley twice and Ready twice. That's helped them prepare."

The Stallions, who went 2-6 in the CCL to place fourth behind champion Watterson (7-1), jumped out to a 17-2 lead against Buckeye Valley. Charles Chandler, a 6-foot-3 senior forward who will play football at Kent State, scored a career-high 31 points to lead DeSales, which also got 10 points each from guard Marcus Harris and 6-2 junior Darrien Scott.

The Stallions have advanced to at least a district semifinal every year since 2003, winning district championships in four of the past six seasons while playing in the title game two other times. They reached the state tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Unlike those teams, however, DeSales likes to feed the ball inside more this season. Another key player is 6-7 junior Jordan Tyson.

"The (district) draw sets up that if we play to our potential there's nothing we can't do," Stallions coach Blair Albright said. "The bracket we're in, we were able to avoid (fourth-seeded) Watterson, (third-seeded) Hartley and (second-seeded) Brookhaven. We can win a district championship."

The Hornets haven't won a tournament game since moving up from Division III in 2007-08. They're 0-4 in the postseason during that time, which includes last year's 65-57 setback against Granville when they squandered a 23-point lead in the second half. They also lost to Utica 62-60 in overtime in 2010, 59-46 to Jonathan Alder a year earlier and 75-71 against Mifflin in 2008.

"I think our guys know it's time to get that monkey off our back," Clark said. "We were happy to get the fifth seed. I feel we were taken care of. That gave us some options, and we're playing close to home. Hopefully, we'll take advantage of that."

The Hornets' bracket also features top-seeded Jonathan Alder and seventh-seeded Eastmoor Academy. If the seedings hold, the Hornets would meet Eastmoor in a district semifinal at 6 p.m. March 7 at Heath and Jonathan Alder in a district final at 8:30 p.m. March 9 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Eastmoor, which is 14-7 after eliminating Linden-McKinley 55-31 in the first round as 6-2 Bryan Booker totaled 16 points and eight rebounds, will play Mifflin, which is 7-13, in the opening game at Heath on Thursday, March 1.

The Hornets, who are riding a nine-game winning streak, won their final 10 MSL-Cardinal games to earn their first league title since 2002-03, finishing three games ahead of runners-up Grandview and West Jefferson (10-4 each). Licking Heights' overall record was second-best in the 24-team MSL behind Bloom-Carroll (20-0), which won the MSL-Buckeye and was ranked first in the final Division III state poll.

In the regular-season finale against Fisher Catholic, Alex Murphy scored 16 points and Darius Strickland added nine.

"There's always a sense of urgency in the tournament," Clark said. "Our guys know that, and they also know what we did in the regular season won't help us now. We've just got to go play with the same desire."

•The wrestling team had four participants in the Division II district tournament Feb. 24 and 25 at Uhrichsville Claymont. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to the state tournament, which will be held Thursday, March 1, through Saturday, March 3, at Ohio State.

None of the Hornets' district qualifiers was as much of a surprise as junior Michael Zaky, who placed third at heavyweight during the home sectional Feb. 18 despite wrestling in only six regular-season matches.

After losing in a championship quarterfinal, Zaky, who didn't join the team until midseason, posted three victories in the consolation bracket. He pinned two opponents, including Licking Valley's Bo Redman in the district-qualifying round, and then defeated Granville's Caleb Sims 5-4 in the third-place match to improve to 7-3.

"He was undersized last year. He wrestled about 230 (pounds)," coach Bo Ramsey said. "He's about 275 now and fits the weight class. He played football and has done some things to make himself a better athlete."

Tyler Price (113) and Ty Yeager (126) captured sectional championships to improve to 40-1 and 25-12, respectively. Price was dominant all the way through, defeating Caledonia River Valley's Raymond Raimo 11-4 in the final. Yeager had two pins and beat Granville's Christian Price 3-1 in overtime in his final.

Kevin Yeager (170) placed fourth to improve to 29-5, and A.J. Valesquez (220) finished fifth to become a district alternate.

"Tyler's taken a lot of heat for his decision to go 113 in the tournament, but he's proving everyone wrong," Ramsey said. "There were six returning state qualifiers at that weight in our district, and now there's five left (after the sectionals). That means someone pretty good isn't going to state."

Ramsey, whose team finished sixth (100.5 points) in the sectional behind champion Licking Valley (194.5), said he would be among the missing at state if none of the Hornets qualified.

"If none of our kids make it I'm not going," he said. "We've had a qualifier (in six) straight seasons now, so it wouldn't seem right."