John Betz always believed there was something special about the first group of seniors in the Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball program.

John Betz always believed there was something special about the first group of seniors in the Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball program.

The Pioneers coach saw that last season when his team won an OCC-Capital Division title and then added another title last Friday with a 54-50 win over Delaware. But this road to a league title had a few detours.

Orange lost league games to Mount Vernon 59-49 on Jan. 22 and New Albany 62-54 on Jan. 29. Entering last Friday, the Pioneers needed a win over visiting Delaware and New Albany to help out by beating Mount Vernon. Both scenarios came about when the host Eagles downed Mount Vernon 56-51.

"They are my boys," said Betz, whose team tied Mount Vernon at 12-2 for the OCC-Capital title. "No one expected us to win last year because we were a first-year school and didn't have any seniors This year they pulled a rabbit out of a hat. I knew somehow, someway, they would win the OCC. I always believed in them."

Last season, the Pioneers won the program's first title by going 9-3 in the league. They finished ahead of Franklin Heights and Mount Vernon, both tied for second at 8-4.

Before the game, Betz greeted the senior players and their parents individually at mid-court near the Orange bench. The second-year coach welled-up with emotion as a smile crept across his face with each handshake.

"Coach gets pretty emotional sometimes," said senior guard Taylor Rieger, who led Orange with 17 points in the win over Delaware. "We've been through a lot and we've learned so much from him."

Rieger is one of eight seniors for the Pioneers. Others are guard Bryce Agler, forward Jacob Carlton, forward Garrett Carter, guards Alex Chekanoff, Jason Hoskins and Zack Joseph and forward Cameron Sheehan.

"It was nice to win it again, especially as seniors," said Sheehan, who scored 15 points last Friday. "No one knew who we were last year, but this year we were the team to beat. We saw the best from every team every night."

The Pioneers jumped to a 14-4 lead and held off a late charge by Delaware, which made only two of its first 16 free throws and finished 5-for-21 from the line. Orange made 15 of 21 free throws, shooting 9-for-12 in the final quarter.

"Our defense was there all the time," said Joseph, who scored 10 points in the win. "We worked hard and made sure that we would come up with loose balls."

During a timeout with 50.8 seconds remaining and Orange clinging to a 49-46 lead, the public address announcer informed the crowd that New Albany had beaten Mount Vernon.

"When we heard that Mount Vernon had lost, it really gave us more motivation," Sheehan said. "It really boosted us defensively and gave us confidence."

Agler and Hoskins both had five points against Delaware.

Betz said the performance over Delaware was indicative of the way his team had played throughout the season.

"We played pretty gutsy," he said. "We spread people out, shot free throws and played strong defense."

The Pioneers were 16-3 overall before playing last Wednesday against Olentangy Liberty in a first-round Division I district tournament game. The Patriots entered the game at 10-10 overall.

The first-round winner plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at Worthington Christian against Thomas Worthington or Pickerington North. Thomas was 5-14 overall and Pickerington North was 15-5 before playing last Wednesday.

Neither team played Orange or Liberty this season.

The second-round winner plays Hilliard Davidson, Walnut Ridge or ninth-seeded Westerville Central in a district semifinal at 8:45 p.m. March 6 in the Fairgrounds Coliseum. The district final is at 3 p.m. on March 13 at the Fairgrounds.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Liberty, Olentangy and Orange boys basketball teams:

LIBERTY

*Last Friday -- Lost to Westerville South 81-46. Matt Napier scored 16 points to leads the Patriots. Mike Fries and Andy Yazrombek added six points apiece.

Last Wednesday -- Played Orange in a first-round Division I district game. The winner plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at Worthington Christian against Thomas Worthington or Pickerington North. The second-round winner will play Hilliard Davidson, Walnut Ridge or ninth-seeded Westerville Central in a district semifinal at 8:45 p.m. March 6 in the Fairgrounds Coliseum. The district final will be March 13 at 3 p.m. at the Fairgrounds.

Of note: The Patriots were 10-10 overall before last Wednesday and finished 7-7 in the OCC-Cardinal behind champion South at 14-0.

OLENTANGY

*Last Friday -- Lost to Westerville North 62-39. Justin Gingery led the Braves with 10 points, Stephen Walczak added eight points and Ben-Michael Welch had five points.

Last Tuesday -- Played Columbus South in a first-round Division II district game. The winner plays at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Scioto against second-seeded Watterson. The second-round winner will play in a district semifinal March 5 (8 p.m.) at the Fairgrounds with possible seeded opponents being No. 7 Eastmoor Academy or No. 10 Jonathan Alder. The district final is 9 p.m. March 12 at the Fairgrounds.

Of note: The Braves were 5-15 overall before last Tuesday and finished 4-10 in the OCC-Cardinal behind champion Westerville South.

*OCC-Cardinal game

ORANGE

*Last Friday -- Defeated Delaware 54-50

Last Wednesday -- Played Liberty in a first-round Division I district game. The winner plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at Worthington Christian against Thomas Worthington or Pickerington North. The second-round winner will play Hilliard Davidson, Walnut Ridge or ninth-seeded Westerville Central in a district semifinal at 8:45 p.m. March 6 in the Fairgrounds Coliseum. The district final is at 3 p.m. on March 13 at the Fairgrounds.

Of note: The Pioneers were 16-3 overall before last Wednesday and finished 12-2 in the OCC-Capital to finish tied for the title with Mount Vernon.

*OCC-Capital game