The Licking Heights High School girls basketball team snapped a six-game losing streak by defeating Lakewood 30-18 in an LCL game Jan. 18.
It was a relief for the Hornets, who had won six of their first eight contests.
But coach Tay Tufts said he and his players learned a great deal during the skid, which included three defeats by four points or fewer. Five of the losses were by single digits.
"We made some changes defensively, I challenged our leaders and we got a lot of experience for some younger girls during that stretch," Tufts said. "I was upset by continued foul trouble we were having with several of our starters, so that's where we started -- defense.
"After the second of those losses (78-74 to Utica on Dec. 27), we started to go primarily with a zone defense. I hate zones and we hadn't done that here in my two years, but we felt like we had to protect some girls because they weren't moving their feet, were reaching and getting into foul trouble. The girls really didn't like it either, but until we could play man-to-man under control, that's what we did."
The Hornets returned to their man-to-man, full-court pressure against Lakewood, which scored just six points in the second half.
"We played a controlled, aggressive game and it showed," Tufts said. "Lakewood only had 15 field-goal attempts and made five. We took 52 shots and shot miserably, but I expected that since we haven't worked on offense much at all the past three weeks."
Skyler Ortiz had 13 points, four steals, four rebounds and two blocks and Dameras Whitlock had seven points, five assists and five steals.
During their four-game all-zone approach, the Hornets lost to Johnstown (66-48 on Jan. 4), Northridge (52-44 on Jan. 9), Utica (54-53 on Jan. 13) and Granville (52-45 on Jan. 16).
But all the while, the Hornets were focusing on zone and man-to-man defenses during practices.
"The majority of time, probably 85 percent of each practice, has been spent on defense," Tufts said. "So now we can use zone or man-to-man during games. Using more girls in games and practices also will help us in the future. At one point against Lakewood, we had two freshmen and three sophomores on the floor.
"I was afraid some of the seniors were going to get upset and give up on the season. But they assured me they want to get to 12 wins, which would be one more than last season and the most in 15 or 16 years here. So we're moving forward now and the senior leadership has improved. We're playing for improvement and for the best (district tournament) seed we can get."
Licking Heights improved to 8-9 overall and 6-7 in the LCL by beating Heath 63-45 on Jan. 23. The Hornets lost to Big Walnut 61-47 on Jan. 21. Ortiz scored 17 points and Whitlock added 16 against Heath. Whitlock scored 15 points and Imaani Wilson-Cunningham added 10 against Big Walnut.
Through 15 games, Whitlock was averaging 15.6 points, 4.3 assists and 4.1 steals. Ortiz was averaging 14.0 points and 2.6 steals, and Crystal Jackson was averaging 8.5 rebounds.
Boys basketball team pulls out victory
The boys basketball team finally got another positive result in a close game.
After going 1-4 in games decided by one possession or in overtime, the Hornets beat host Lakewood 54-49 in overtime Jan. 21.
Dante Burnette scored five of his 14 points in overtime and Babe Murphy had 14 points and nine rebounds for Licking Heights, which improved to 7-7 overall and 6-6 in the LCL before playing Heath on Jan. 24.
The Hornets play Monday, Jan. 27, at Newark Catholic. The Green Wave won the first meeting 60-58 on Dec. 17 when Connor Keck tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer.
That was the first of Licking Heights' five close games. The Hornets lost to Granville 59-56 on Dec. 21, defeated Licking Valley 90-87 in triple overtime Jan. 3, lost to Johnstown 57-54 in overtime Jan. 15 and lost to Granville 56-53 on Jan. 17.
Licking Heights plays host to Watkins Memorial on Friday, Jan. 31. The Hornets beat the Warriors 53-49 on Dec. 20.
Wrestlers prepare for LCL tourney
The wrestling team is coming off a good showing as it prepares for the LCL tournament Saturday, Feb. 1, at home.
"From what I know about LCL teams, I think it should be very competitive," coach Bo Ramsey said. "I've heard Northridge and Utica have strong teams and I know Licking Valley, Granville and Newark Catholic are among teams who have some outstanding individuals. From what I hear, there will be state qualifiers up and down through the weight classes."
The Hornets finished fifth (221.5) in the 11-team Robin Drumm Classic on Jan. 18 at Heath behind champion Duncan Falls Philo (351).
Freshmen Dereck Wilson (145) and Josiah Harrell (152) and senior Mike Hopewell (220) won titles, and sophomore Anthony Haist (106) and senior A.J. Velasquez (heavyweight) were runners-up.
Sophomores Brandon Haist (120) and Taylor Woolard (126) finished fifth, with sophomore Josh Jamison (160) and freshman Garrett Sommerkamp (heavyweight) placing sixth.
"Wilson got his first tournament win and just bullied his opponents, so I was happy for him," Ramsey said. "Hopewell was also just more aggressive and physical than his opponents. He's trying to drop to 195 and that will make him much bigger and stronger against his opponents.
"Harrell had a good tournament and was unchallenged into the finals. But he was challenged and was able to get his second defensive pin of the year. He's so savvy. Both of those pins came against district qualifiers."
According to Ramsey, freshman L.A. Kelly (138) is injured and won't compete in the league tournament.
The Hornets defeated Marion-Franklin 48-22 and lost to Buckeye Valley 51-22 on Jan. 23.