Two teams were looking at district championships March 9 from different perspectives.
The Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball team was seeking its first district title under a first-year coach and Olentangy Liberty was looking for a second consecutive trip to a regional semifinal.
Both teams came up short as Orange lost to defending state champion Pickerington Central 62-55 and Liberty was edged by top-seeded and top-ranked Northland 52-48 in Division I district finals at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The 18th-seeded Pioneers finished 15-10 after 10th-seeded Central pulled away in the second half. Orange led 28-26 at halftime.
"It was a great first half. (Senior guard) Nick (Deitsch) shot the ball well, and I knew he would shoot the ball well," coach Anthony Calo said. "We just gave up too many points in the second half. There's a really good player (junior forward Jae'Sean Tate) on the other end and he made a lot of plays. That's the way it goes sometimes."
Deitsch scored 28 points with six 3-pointers and senior post player Brady Harris had 12 points. Senior forwards Tyler Dillard and Declan Feery added eight and seven points, respectively.
"They were beating us to a lot of 50-50 balls and they got a lot of offensive rebounds," Central coach Jerry Francis said. "They were tough and knocked us off our course, but we were able to stay the course toward the end. We made a little run and Jae'Sean got some easy baskets and we were able to sustain the lead."
Liberty also led at halftime, holding a 26-24 advantage, but the third-seeded Patriots were outscored 12-6 in the third quarter.
"I think we're a better team now and would like to play them again," said coach Greg Nossaman, whose team finished 23-2. "But they are quick and they can run. They did what they needed to do to win."
Senior guard Nick Nossaman led Liberty with 17 points, including five 3-pointers, and had five rebounds. Senior forward Alex Radkiewicz had 14 points and five rebounds and senior guard Sam DeRoy added six points.
"(Radkiewicz) is a good player and he got some good looks," Northland coach Sean Taylor said. "And that Nossaman doesn't need space (to get a shot off). He can hit the 3."
A year ago, Liberty lost to Central 60-58 in a regional semifinal.
Orange moved into its first district final when Deitsch tipped in the ball with less than a second left in overtime to defeat OCC-Capital Division rival New Albany 46-45 on March 6 at Pickerington North. The fourth-seeded Eagles had beaten Orange 68-54 on Dec. 7 and 54-34 on Jan. 18.
Senior guard Brandon Blake scored 14 points, Feery had 12 and Harris added 10.
Liberty defeated OCC-Central foe Westland 61-43 on March 6 in a district semifinal at Marysville. Senior guard Matt Muntean had 20 points, junior forward Mike DeLeon scored 12, senior guard Tyler Welch scored eight and both Radkiewicz and junior forward Zach Nice added seven.
Senior leadership sparked Olentangy
Olentangy finished 15-9 overall after losing at ninth-seeded Gahanna 79-68 in overtime Feb. 28 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The Braves were third (10-4) in the OCC-Capital behind New Albany (14-0) and Delaware (11-3) and ahead of Orange (8-6), Franklin Heights (5-9), Mount Vernon (3-11), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Big Walnut (2-12).
"We had 15 great wins and we were close to getting more," said coach Chris Kelly, who completed his 10th season. "We were absolutely close to getting 18, 20, even 21 wins. Our kids had great efforts in games and they were a great group of kids who worked extremely hard."
Olentangy defeated visiting Upper Arlington 43-41 in the opening round of district play Feb. 23.
Senior point guard Seth Clark led the Braves in scoring (17.9 points per game) and steals (3.5) and averaged 3.9 assists. He was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Senior forward Craig Matthews averaged 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds to be named honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Senior forward Joe Morycz led the team in rebounds (7.8) and averaged 7.5 points while being named honorable mention all-league. Senior guard Erik Brandt led in assists (4.0) and scored 6.5 points per contest.
Other seniors included forward Trey Augustine, forward Brett Boggs, center Andrew Hortsman and guard Tyler Sobieray (7.1 points).
"We had eight good seniors who got along well and did a great job leading the team," Kelly said. "The five who started (Brandt, Clark, Matthews, Morycz and Sobieray) worked so well together. There was absolutely no jealousy. It didn't matter who got the points as long as it helped the team."
Sophomore guard Jimmy Gundling (6.7 points) leads the list of possible returnees. A pair of guards, junior Michael Delaney and sophomore Ryan Sieve, also saw varsity action, as did junior forward Noah Durst and junior center Donovan McGuire.
"I feel like we have some guys coming back who got some valuable varsity experience," Kelly said. "We also had good freshman and j.v. teams. We have hungry, young guys who need to step up and keep this team going. I really like who we have coming back."