The Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball team hopes to develop the kind of toughness necessary to win a third consecutive league championship and make a third consecutive run to a Division I district final.
If the Pioneers succeed in both pursuits, they might end up looking back to a non-league road game in early December as having aided the cause.
In a rematch of a district final it lost to Northland 51-50 a year ago, Orange fell 69-59 on Dec. 10.
With 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter, senior guard Taylor Agler banged into another player while going after a loose ball and would need three stitches just above her upper lip. Northland starter Armani Skipper went out for the rest of the game after suffering a right knee injury on the same sequence.
Mya Walker scored eight second-half points and helped fuel a 14-6 run that cut Orange's deficit from 50-36 to 56-50 with four minutes left, but the Pioneers left the game believing work needed to be done regarding how they run their offensive sets and control the tempo.
"We just learned a whole lot about ourselves (against Northland)," coach Mary Ann Grimes said. "I think we need to come back and get completely refocused and a little hungrier to play team basketball like we do and run our sets like we do. Instead of exploiting (Northland's) weaknesses, we let their strengths become stronger."
The Pioneers followed the loss by beating Olentangy 57-52 on Dec. 15 in the first game between the programs, as Walker scored 15 points, Agler had 14, Maddy Joseph had 12 and Sarah Sagerer added 11. The Braves previously had played in the OCC-Cardinal Division before moving this year into the OCC-Capital.
Last season, Orange went 14-0 to win the OCC-Capital and Olentangy went 13-1 to win the OCC-Cardinal.
The Pioneers close the 2012 portion of the league schedule Friday, Dec. 21, at Delaware before competing in the Braggin' Rights Classic on Dec. 27 and 28 at Cincinnati Walnut Hills.
Loss sends Liberty back to 'drawing board'
After winning its first four games, Liberty led 14-3 in the first quarter against visiting Olentangy on Dec. 11.
The strong start didn't hold up, as the Braves led 25-23 at halftime and outscored the Patriots 19-8 in the third quarter on the way to a 58-47 win.
"We answered the bell, but we didn't deliver the knockout punch," coach Ron Florey said. "We knocked them down, though. Olentangy is one of the best teams in central Ohio and we went toe-to-toe with them."
The Patriots close the 2012 portion of the OCC-Central schedule Friday, Dec. 21, against visiting Westland before playing in an eight-team KSA Events tournament Dec. 28, 29 and 31 in Orlando, Fla.
Senior guard Maddie Redwine tied a program record by making five 3-pointers against Olentangy on the way to scoring 17 points. Three of the 3s came in the first quarter.
In the second half, freshman point guard Alexa Fisher had eight points and four steals.
"We'll go back to the drawing board on some of our offensive sets and defensive schemes," Florey said.
Olentangy primed for Pickerington event
When talking about his team's first appearance in the Pickerington North Holiday Classic from Dec. 27-29, Olentangy coach John Feasel joked that his goal is not to be playing in the 3 p.m. game on the final day of the event.
That time slot represents the seventh-place game of the eight-team event.
As long as the Braves win one of their games during the first two days of the tournament, that objective will be reached.
The tournament will pit Olentangy against Centerville at 3 p.m. Dec. 27 in its opening game. Depending on first-round results, Olentangy will play Northland or Pittsburgh Seton-LaSalle Catholic on Dec. 28.
"It's all quality teams," Feasel said. "We're good in central Ohio, but it's good to go out and see where you are against everybody else."
In Olentangy's win over Liberty, senior Gina Miccinilli made three 3s and scored 11 points and freshman Kelly Meade made four 3s and scored 16 points to spark the comeback.
That marked the Braves' seventh win in a row over their sister school, according to Feasel.
Miccinilli didn't score but had eight assists and five steals in a 68-28 win over Big Walnut on Dec. 7 as Feasel won his 100th game.
"If someone is off, we have someone else who is going to be on," Miccinilli said.