Its first appearance in the Division I district tournament wasn't much different from its first season in the LCL for the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team.
The 29th-seeded Hornets battled 26th-seeded and host Dresden Tri-Valley throughout a first-round game Feb. 21, but lost 57-53.
Licking Heights finished 11-12 overall, with half of its losses by four or fewer points. Nine losses were by eight or fewer points.
"We definitely lost far more than our share of close ones," coach Nathan Clark said. "We just had trouble getting over the hump. If we win half of those games, we have 15 or 16 wins. That's how close we were to having a great season."
The Hornets finished 9-9 in the LCL, tying Lakewood for fifth behind Granville (16-2), Johnstown (15-3), Newark Catholic (14-4) and Licking Valley (11-7) and ahead of Watkins Memorial (8-10), Northridge (5-13), Heath (3-15) and Utica (0-18).
Senior Babe Murphy had 20 points and seven rebounds against Tri-Valley, but missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. Senior Dante Burnette had 14 points and four steals.
"We led 48-47 with three and a half minutes left, but we had two turnovers, we let them score off an offensive rebound on a free throw and we basically didn't make the plays we needed to make down the stretch," Clark said. "They outrebounded us and made their free throws, and that was the difference."
Tri-Valley had 18 turnovers, but outscored the Hornets 19-9 at the free-throw line and had a 25-20 rebounding advantage.
Licking Heights' largest deficit was six points.
Murphy averaged 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.6 steals. He was first-team all-league and third-team all-district.
Senior Martell Davis, who averaged 6.4 points, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals, was honorable mention all-league.
Burnette averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Joining those three in the senior class were Douglas Benniefield, Aaron Tiller, Blake Beaver and DeAnthony Hosley.
Benniefield averaged 7.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals through 16 games, but did not finish the season after breaking a hand. Hosley suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 3 when the Hornets beat Utica 64-34 in the second game of the season.
Tiller averaged 6.7 points and Beaver averaged 4.0.
"Murphy was a four-year starter and the Player of the Year (in the MSL-Cardinal) the past two seasons," Clark said. "He's the second all-time leading scorer here behind Wade Pidock (2003). DeAnthony started as a sophomore, so losing him hurt us a lot.
"But it's a heck of a senior class, not just in basketball, but in all sports. They've meant a lot to Licking Heights and helped with solidarity, establishing our athletics as we moved into a new era with a new league and larger division. They've gone from being two-time league champions (in basketball) to learning what it takes to be successful in the LCL."
Expected returnees are juniors Chase Holskey, Damian Murray and Ryan Singleton and sophomores Brandon Mims and Zach Sims.
"We'll be young next year," Clark said. "Singleton was a part-time starter, Murray is a strong defender and Holskey is a perimeter shooter. Mims and Sims split time with the junior varsity, which finished 18-4. Our freshman team was 13-7. So there's talent there, but not much varsity experience."
Girls basketball team falls in first round
The girls basketball team finished 10-13 overall, losing at 13th-seeded Olentangy 92-58 on Feb. 17 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
The Hornets were seeded 33rd of 47 teams.
Licking Heights loses four seniors, including its top scorers in point guard Dameras Whitlock and guard Skyler Ortiz.
Whitlock averaged 15.5 points, 4.0 assists, 3.9 steals and 4.1 rebounds. She was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Ortiz averaged 11.5 points, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals. She was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The other seniors were Alexis Sanidad (5.3 points, 2.0 steals) and Imaani Wilson-Cunningham (4.9 points, 2.8 rebounds).
"These girls did a lot of great things and I wish I had them for four years because they're talented," second-year coach Tay Tufts said. "Skyler has a full-ride scholarship to play at Indiana Tech, an (NAIA) Division II school, and Whitlock looks like she'll be getting a scholarship to play at Glenville State (in West Virginia) once their season is over.
"Alexis has an academic scholarship to Mount Union and the coach there wants her to play basketball. Imaani looks like she'll be going to Columbus State and she is thinking about playing there."
The Hornets finished 8-10 in the LCL to tie Northridge and Utica for fifth behind Newark Catholic (17-1), Johnstown (16-2), Licking Valley (13-5) and Granville (9-9) and ahead of Lakewood (5-13), Watkins Memorial (4-14) and Heath (2-16).
Expected to return are sophomores Crystal Jackson, Ashley King and Heather Colopy and freshmen Courtney Moore, Katie Palombaro and Jordin Spears.
Jackson, King and Palombaro are post players. Colopy is a point guard and Spears and Moore are shooting guards.
"We're going to be real young next year and we're going to need the girls to work on the three Es -- energy, effort and execution," Tufts said. "They need to get into the gym when they're not told to go to the gym. We have to get better in the offseason and they have to be self-motivated."
Wrestlers end season in district tourney
The wrestling team scored seven points in the Division I district tournament Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby to finish 33rd behind champion Marys-ville (147.5) as 37 teams scored.
The Hornets had five participants, but none advanced to state.
Freshman Joey Harrell had the best showing, despite losing 16-0 in his opener at 152 pounds to eventual champion Aaron Yarger of Pickerington Central.
Harrell, who finished 36-10, rebounded to beat Danny Darby of Worthington Kilbourne 10-0 and pin Keith Neely of Upper Arlington in 2 minutes, 44 seconds before losing 4-2 to Marysville's Alex Sepeda, who placed third.
Freshman L.A. Kelly went 1-2 at 138 to finish 17-13.
Sophomores Anthony Haist (106) and Brandon Haist (120) and senior Mike Hopewell (195) all went 0-2. Anthony Haist finished 33-11, Brandon Haist was 30-14 and Hopewell went 31-13.