Throughout most of the New Albany High School girls basketball team's 69-35 win over Licking Heights in the first round of the Division II district tournament Feb. 18, it really didn't feel like a tournament game.

Throughout most of the New Albany High School girls basketball team's 69-35 win over Licking Heights in the first round of the Division II district tournament Feb. 18, it really didn't feel like a tournament game.

The Eagles led 46-21 at halftime, and by that time coach Jamie Puryear already had gone deep into his bench, planning to give everyone some playing time. But as the end of the game drew near, it dawned on the Eagles that they in fact were in tournament play, and this game, although easily won, was different. A tournament mentality set in.

During a stoppage of play, Licking Heights coach Mike Windholtz pulled the seniors off the floor to be recognized by their supporters one last time. After the game was over, players like guard Haley Robertson saw that the Hornets' players were visibly upset. Their season -- and for some their high school career -- had ended.

"It felt like a normal game," Robertson said. "Then after the game you realize that it's not a normal game. You see them, and you realize they're not going to get a chance to play anymore. Their season's over."

New Albany advanced to play South last Tuesday in the second round, with the winner to play Hamilton Township or Licking Valley in a district semifinal Monday at Pickerington North. The winner of that will play top-seeded Big Walnut, eighth-seeded Hartley, Bexley or London in a district final March 6 at North.

The Eagles were seeking a second consecutive trip to a district semifinal, and to make it happen Puryear was stressing to them that they were only one poor performance away from looking the way Licking Heights looked.

"When it comes to tournament games, we're fighting for our life," Puryear said. "We want to make sure we give it everything we have. We have very physical practices up until the day before the game."

Puryear said the quicker the Eagles can put an opponent away, the better. New Albany led 21-10 after the first quarter against Licking Heights, and he said that it was capable of playing better than that. He kept the hammer down with a pressure defense in the second quarter until he felt like New Albany had control. Then the focus turned to getting as many players into the game as possible.

"It's just that experience thing and playing in that tournament atmosphere that's important," Hannah Robertson said. "Even through we're playing (a winnable game) it's still a tournament game, and it could be the last game."

The Eagles have just one senior in Alyson Mott. For the rest of the team, including all of the starters, the end of this year's district tournament won't mark the end of a high school career. The Eagles are receiving a firsthand lesson on how being so close to the end can affect the way a senior plays. Mott has been a solid contributor off the bench, and in two of the last three games before last Tuesday she led the Eagles in scoring.

Mott had 15 points against Licking Heights and 16 in a 62-52 win over Olentangy Liberty on Feb. 10.

"It's tougher when you do only have one senior," Puryear said. "We're really focused that we don't want it to be the end for her -- and Alyson Mott has played some of the best basketball all season in the past two weeks.

"Everyone in Division II will eventually lose their last game except for one team. You just don't want it to be you for as long as possible."

•LEAGUE RACE -- The Eagles finished second in the OCC-Capital Division at 9-3 behind Delaware (12-0) and ahead of Big Walnut (8-4), Mount Vernon (7-5), Olentangy Orange (4-8), Franklin Heights (1-11) and Watkins Memorial (1-11).

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the New Albany girls basketball team:

*Feb. 9 -- Defeated Watkins Mem-orial 56-27. Haley Robertson scored 16 points and Hannah Robertson had 10.

Feb. 10 -- Def. Olentangy Liberty 62-52. Alyson Mott scored 16 points.

*Feb. 13 -- Lost to Delaware 55-51. Hannah Robertson scored 22 points.

Feb. 18 -- Def. Licking Heights 69-35 in first round of Division II district tournament. Mott scored 15 points.

Last Tuesday -- Played South in second round. The winner will play Hamilton Township or Licking Valley in a district semifinal Monday at Pickerington North. The winner of that game will play top-seeded Big Walnut, eighth-seeded Hartley, Bexley or London in a district final March 6 at North.

Of note: The Eagles were 16-5 overall before last Tuesday and finished 9-3 in the OCC-Capital.

*OCC-Capital game