The weight the Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball team felt from losing in back-to-back Division I district finals was eased March 2 at Hilliard Davidson.
The third-seeded Pioneers built a 32-13 lead late in the first half and held off a second-half rally by fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman to win 60-47 for their first district championship.
Orange improved to 22-2 and advanced to a regional semifinal March 5 against Gahanna at Otterbein University.
"After three years of coming close, we finally got it done," said senior guard Taylor Agler, whose team was a district semifinalist in 2010 and lost in a district final the past two seasons, falling 46-39 to Pickerington North in 2011 and 51-50 to Northland last year. "It's just a relief that we finally did it. There's been a lot of pressure on us and we're excited to be going to the regional."
Junior post player Sarah Sagerer had a team-best 17 points against Coffman. Agler battled foul trouble but scored 11 and senior forward Mya Walker and senior guard Maddy Joseph both scored 10.
The Orange-Gahanna winner plays Reynoldsburg or North Canton Hoover in a regional final at 7:15 p.m. Friday, March 8, at Otterbein.
Reynoldsburg was the district's top seed and has won four consecutive district titles. Gahanna was seeded second.
The regional champion will face Middleburg Heights Midpark, Twinsburg, Solon or Mentor in a state semifinal at 6 p.m. March 15 at Ohio State. The state final is at 8:30 p.m. March 16 at Ohio State.
Orange did not play Gahanna or Hoover in the regular season but lost to Reynoldsburg 62-58 on Jan. 14. The Pioneers led the Raiders 30-21 at halftime.
"Because we've been in the (district) championship game two years in a row and lost in close games, it's been tough," coach Mary Ann Grimes said. "(Winning a district title is) a relief."
Braves come up short against North
Olentangy's quest to reach a district final for the fourth consecutive season ended when it lost to ninth-seeded Pickerington North 54-53 in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 28 at Jonathan Alder.
North's Christy Macioce hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left against the seventh-seeded Braves, who finished 20-5.
"It was a great game," coach John Feasel said. "They made the play at the end. We made some plays, too, but they made the last play. You want to be the last one to make the run."
Olentangy opened the district tournament with wins over 34th-seeded Hilliard Darby (67-19 on Feb. 16) and 21st-seeded Mount Vernon (80-35 on Feb. 20) before falling to the Panthers.
The Braves won OCC-Capital Division titles each of the past three seasons before settling for second this season at 12-2, behind Orange (14-0) and ahead of New Albany (10-4), Delaware (7-7), Big Walnut (6-8), Mount Vernon (4-10), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
Olentangy loses seven seniors, including forwards Megan Beidelman and Katie Heath, post player Lydia Hyburg and guard/forward Brooke Zwayer.
Beidelman averaged 12.2 points and was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Hyburg averaged 7.7 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Heath averaged 8.1 points and was honorable mention all-league. Both Heath and Zwayer, who averaged 9.1 points and was honorable mention all-district, missed eight games with injuries.
Five seniors will continue their careers at the college level: Zwayer at Malone, Hyburg at Wheeling Jesuit, Beidelman at Mount Vernon Nazarene, Heath at Otterbein and guard Gina Miccinilli at Heidelburg.
Olentangy's only league losses came against Orange, 57-52 on Dec. 15 and 64-60 on Jan. 26.
Among the players expec- ted to return are freshman forward Kelly Meade and sophomore guard Morgan Horvath. Meade averaged 9.5 points, scoring a season-high 30 in an 88-35 win over Franklin Heights on Jan. 29, and Horvath averaged 6.5 points. Horvath also missed time because of injury.
Others eligible to return include juniors Haley Ballmer (post player), Emma Huffman (post player) and Rachel Hyburg (guard) and sophomore Rachel Womeldorf (post player).
"We had seven hard-working (seniors) that we're going to miss next year," Feasel said. "I know a lot of teams will be looking forward to playing us next year. I think we'll be a different team, but we'll be all right."
Patriots' season ends in semifinal
Liberty took another step forward this season.
After winning five games in the 2010-11 season and finishing 10-12 a year ago, the Patriots tied their program record for wins by going 15-9. They also reached a district semifinal for the first time since their inaugural 2003-04 season, when they competed in Division II.
Liberty, which lost to eventual Division I district champion Reynoldsburg 62-22 in a district semifinal Feb. 28 at Bloom-Carroll, also set a program record for points in a season with 1,080.
"For us, it was a good season," coach Ron Florey said. "We're calling it a 'season to remember.' For the seniors, it was their first winning season ever at any level. What better way to send them off?"
Liberty closed the regular season with a 46-39 win over OCC-Central co-champion Coffman on Feb. 8 and opened the tournament with wins over 26th-seeded Grove City (57-22 on Feb. 16) and 13th-seeded New Albany (31-30 on Feb. 20) before falling to the Raiders.
Against Reynoldsburg, the 17th-seeded Patriots trailed 34-6 at halftime and were outscored 17-6 in the third quarter.
Liberty went 9-5 in the OCC-Central to place third, behind Coffman (12-2) and Hilliard Davidson (12-2) and ahead of Upper Arlington (8-6), Central Crossing (6-8), Westland (6-8), Thomas Worthington (3-11) and Marysville (0-14).
The Patriots lose five seniors, including guards Kenn-edy Wilke and Maddie Redwine and guard/forward Karla Levering.
Wilke averaged 10 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Levering averaged 5.6 points and Redwine averaged 4.4.
Sophomore post player Kristen Levering averaged 7.8 points and was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district. Freshman point guard Alexa Fisher averaged seven points, three steals and three assists and shot 45 percent from 3-point range and was honorable mention all-league.
Also expected back are juniors Emily Perry (guard/forward) and Melissa Veerman (forward) and sophomore Hayley Hickman (guard). Hickman averaged 3.3 points.
According to Florey, the Patriots' junior varsity went 18-3.
"Even though we lose five, we have five really good players coming back to build on," Florey said. "I think the future looks good for Liberty basketball."