Hours before his team was set to play host to Pickerington in December 2001, Newark High School girls basketball coach Dan Walters wasn't exactly brimming with confidence.

Hours before his team was set to play host to Pickerington in December 2001, Newark High School girls basketball coach Dan Walters wasn't exactly brimming with confidence.

His Wildcats had reached a district final the season before, but they hardly resembled that team at the moment. The Wildcats had graduated the majority of the key players from the 2000-01 team, and Walters' squad was 0-3 heading into the game against the Tigers.

"I went out to get a bite to eat," Walters recalled, "and I just said, 'Dan, just keep it close. Somehow, just keep it close.'"

Newark, a district champion in 1999 and 2000, had kept it close against Pickerington in recent years. Newark lost to the Tigers by three points and six points in two meetings in the 2000-01 season, but it hadn't been able to get over the hump. In fact, no one in the OCC had been able to win a conference game against the Tigers since Feb. 13, 1987 -- a span of 181 games over 14 seasons.

And the OCC, as Walters pointed out, featured plenty of elite teams other than Pickerington.

"We're not talking about a horsecrap league," Walters said. "Beth Burns made a comment, when she was coaching Ohio State, she said, 'Dan, I don't think you realize how good that league is. That league would be better than the state tournament in a lot of states.' We had 15 Division I athletes in a three-year period."

The Tigers, guided by 19th-year coach Dave Butcher, were coming off their 13th consecutive district title and had begun the 2001-02 season 2-0. Pickerington was led by sophomore guard Marscilla Packer, who went on to play at Ohio State and was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 2008. Although Packer was the star, Pickerington's teams were always more than a one-player show, according to Newark guard Brittany Walters.

"All-around, no matter what, they always had five good players on the court," said Brittany, who graduated in 2002 with her twin sister, Casey, also a guard. "Right off the bench, they would always have two or three who were just as good as their starters were. Their starters were always going D-I somewhere. They always had 6-4 post players, their guards could handle it and most of them came up through the program, so they knew the Pickerington style of play and they knew once they got to high school, they were going to have to be good."

Early in this meeting, it looked as though Newark might not be able to achieve coach Walters' modest goal of keeping it close. Pickerington led 12-4 as Newark failed to make a field goal in the first quarter.

"After the quarter was over, we kind of all went to the bench and were like, 'Here we go again,'" Brittany Walters said. "'Here goes another Pickerington win.'"

Newark, however, kept its composure and closed the gap to 18-16 by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats had a 10-point lead and the home crowd was beginning to sense that this could be a special night. Newark's coaches and players remained cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the caution.

"Once they got on the streak, there was a certain mystique about (Pickerington)," coach Walters said. "You could play well for a little bit, but the first time something went wrong, you'd kind of panic and think, 'Here we go. We can't beat them.'"

On this night, however, the Wildcats showed no signs of panic and stayed hot from the field. Newark hit six of 12 3-point shots, and Pickerington simply never found its touch and could not make a run as Newark posted a 43-32 victory. Packer finished with 18 points, 10 of which came in the first quarter.

"We shot so poorly," said Butcher, now at Pickerington North. "I tried to rotate a ton of guards. Newark was playing back off of us and letting us shoot from the perimeter. We shot horrendous, and we had good shooters."

Brittany Walters led the Wildcats with 11 points and Rachel Hall added 10.

The Wildcats lived and died with their outside shooting all season long, as they went 11-9 in the regular season.

In the first round of the district tournament, Casey Walters scored 19 points and Brittany Walters added 12 as Newark fell to undefeated Mount Vernon 60-52.

Pickerington would go on to win yet another district title and reached a regional final before losing to Lancaster 54-51. Pickerington won two more district titles before the district added another school in 2003-04. Butcher took over at North in 2003 and has led the Panthers to district titles in each of his six seasons.

Coach Walters retired after the 2003-04 season, ending his 24-year tenure. He said the win over Pickerington still has plenty of significance to him, and he recalls vividly the attention it brought the program that season.

"We got calls from (coaches and newspapers) all over the state about that game, wanting to know what happened, how did it happen and so forth," he said. "We just got a number of calls, even some from out of the state."

"Without a doubt," said Brittany Walters, "that's still the No. 1 game we still talk about as a family."

Looking back

Below is a brief overview of Nos. 4-10 in our poll. For more details and photos, please visit:

www.ThisWeekNews.com

No. 4: The Upper Arlington boys basketball team overcame a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit and went on to upset Dublin Scioto 85-78 in triple overtime in the second round of the 2002 Division I district tournament. UA entered the game at 9-12; Scioto was 19-1.

No. 5: The Westerville South boys basketball team stunned all of central Ohio in 2008 by knocking off unbeaten and top-ranked Northland 67-59 in a Division I district semifinal. South went on to win its first district title since 1990 and eventually reached a regional final.

No. 6: The Gahanna football team pulled off a 33-28 upset of top-seeded Lancaster in a Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal in 2006. The Lions entered the game at 7-3, but Lancaster was 10-0 and had beaten Gahanna 34-3 just two weeks earlier.

No. 7: The Westland boys basketball team, just 2-18 entering its game against 16-3 Brookhaven in the first round of the 1999 Division I district tournament , shocked the second-seeded Bearcats 59-56.

No. 8: Tom Jagels of Dublin Coffman came from behind to beat Craig Smith of Pickerington 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a quarterfinal of the 2003 Division I district tennis tournament. With the victory, Jagels snapped a life-long, 17-match losing streak against Smith, the two-time defending district champion.

No. 9 (tie): The Groveport softball team upset top-seeded Hilliard Darby 2-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament in 1999. The Cruisers were 6-16 entering the game, while Darby was 22-1.

No. 9 (tie): Westerville South wrestler Troy Bowers stunned Alex Stepanovich of Berea by pinning him in 1 minute, 3 seconds in the 1999 Division I state heavyweight final. After falling to Bowers, who had not won sectional or district titles, Stepanovich went 36-0 the following season and has gone on to play five seasons in the NFL.

About this series

NEXT WEEK: No. 2