The Licking Heights High School boys basketball team had two goals entering the season.
The Hornets accomplished the first when they repeated as MSL-Cardinal Division champions, but they didn't reach the second of playing for a district title. They lost to visiting Big Walnut 76-75 in overtime in the first round of the Division II district tournament Feb. 23 to finish 18-5 overall.
Last season, the Hornets finished 18-3 after losing to DeSales 61-44 in the second round after having a first-round bye.
"This definitely isn't the way we wanted to end the season, especially for our four seniors," coach Nathan Clark said. "We had it and let it slip through our fingers."
Licking Heights struggled to get into an offensive flow, in part because of the number of fouls called. The teams combined to shoot 90 free throws and four of the Hornets' starters fouled out, while another, junior forward Doug Benniefield, was injured in the third quarter and didn't return.
"They definitely had the size advantage on us and we needed to use our quickness advantage (to) produce turnovers that lead to offense," Clark said. "Because of the way the game was called, we had trouble playing our style of ball."
The ninth-seeded Hornets had defeated 20th-seeded Big Walnut 67-49 in a regular- season game Feb. 12.
What also hurt the Hornets in the tournament loss were blown opportunities at the free-throw line. They made just 27 of 51 attempts, while Big Walnut was 26-for-39.
"We shot 66 percent from the line as a team this season," said Clark, whose team led 61-56 with 39 seconds left in regulation. "We had a bad night as a whole, but also, because of the foul trouble we were in, we had guys stepping to the line late in the game and overtime that hadn't been in those situations before."
Adam Sheehan had 44 points and 20 rebounds for Big Walnut, which improved to 7-16. He was 19-for-24 from the foul line and made a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and force overtime. In the first meeting, Sheehan only played the second half.
Junior guard DeAnthony Hosley led Licking Heights with 22 points. Senior guard John Righter scored 14 and junior guard Babe Murphy, who had three fouls in the first half, had 13 points.
Junior forward Dante Burnette and junior guard Blake Beaver both scored nine points.
The Hornets went 13-1 in league play to finish ahead of Grandview (12-2), West Jefferson (11-3), Berne Union (6-8), Fisher Catholic (5-9), Harvest Prep (5-9), Liberty Union (3-11) and Millersport (1-13).
Licking Heights loses four seniors, including guard Tyshad Green, a defensive standout, and Righter, who averaged 17.4 points and 2.3 assists. Righter was first-team all-league and third-team all-district.
The other seniors were forwards Willie Carter and Tyler Sims.
"Obviously we'll need someone to step up and be the shooter that spreads defenses out like John Righter did and we'll need a defensive catalyst like Ty Green," Clark said. "But we will have three full-time starters back in Murphy, Hosley and Benniefield and a part-time starter back in Burnette."
Murphy averaged 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.5 steals. He was first-team all-district and the MSL-Cardinal Player of the Year.
Hosley (8.3 points, 2.3 assists) was second-team all-league and Burnette (7.2 points, 4.5 rebounds) was honorable mention.
"We'll have five seniors and we'll have high expectations as we move to the Licking County League," Clark said. "Our goal is we want to compete in the new league right off the bat. I think the competition will help us prepare for the tournament better."
Wrestling season ends at district
Five members of the wrestling team qualified for the Division II district tournament and all lost their first-round matches Feb. 22 at Heath.
None was able to make a run to finish third or fourth on Feb. 23, as the top four in each weight class advanced to the state tournament held Feb. 28 through March 2 at Ohio State.
"We did not wrestle well at all in the first round and we went into the district liking three or maybe four of those first-round matchups," coach Bo Ramsey said. "Not only did they lose confidence, but a first-round loss takes a lot out of you to be able physically to wrestle all the way back to the third-fourth-place match.
"That's why sectional placement is so important going in. This was the first time we haven't had a sectional champion in seven years and I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the first time in seven years we don't have a state qualifier."
Sophomore Ty Yeager had the best district tournament for the Hornets, as he rebounded to win twice at 132 pounds before getting pinned in 1 minute, 22 seconds by Lisbon Beaver's Ron Foster, who went on to finish third.
Yeager finished 29-6.
"Ty lost in a tough first-round match because he didn't do as well as usual on his feet," Ramsey said. "(Foster) was just a better wrestler than Ty (that day)."
Junior A.J. Velasquez (220) and freshman Brandon Haist (113) both went 1-2. Velazquez finished 24-15 and Haist went 35-11.
"Brandon hurt his shoulder the day before sectional and still reached district," Ramsey said. "He could barely lift his arm all week before district, so for him to even win one as a freshman and with a bum shoulder was good."
Senior Michael Zaky (heavyweight) and freshman Anthony Haist (106) both went 0-2. Zaky finished 30-15 and Anthony Haist went 24-15.