Greg Nossaman stood in the Fairgrounds Coliseum, fighting back tears when asked about his Olentangy Liberty High School boys basketball team.
The fifth-year coach was emotional after the third-seeded Patriots lost to top-ranked and top-seeded Northland 52-48 in a Division I district final March 9. Nossaman wasn't ready for the season to end.
"I'm sad it's over," he said. "This was a great group and a great run and I hate to see it end."
A year after winning their first district championship, the Patriots made their second consecutive appearance in a district final, won their second league title in a row and set the program record for wins in a season by finishing 23-2 overall.
Liberty, which returned only one starter from a year ago in senior forward Alex Radkiewicz, set its previous mark for wins last year when it went 21-3.
The Patriots had a first-round bye in the district tournament and defeated 23rd-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley 49-47 in the second round Feb. 27 and 11th-seeded Westland 61-43 in a district semifinal March 6 before falling to Northland.
Liberty had split with Westland in OCC-Central Division play, losing 70-62 on Dec. 21 and winning 58-44 on Feb. 1. The Patriots went 13-1 in the league, finishing ahead of Dublin Coffman (12-2), Westland (9-5), Thomas Worthington (8-6), Upper Arlington (8-6), Marysville (4-10), Hilliard Davidson (2-12) and Central Crossing (0-14).
"This is a great group of kids who really picked it up after we lost a lot of seniors last year," Nossaman said. "They work hard and were always ready to play. You never knew who was going to step up for you on any given night."
Liberty loses six seniors, including Radkiewicz, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds and was named third-team all-district and league Player of the Year.
Senior guard Nick Nossaman averaged 9.6 points and five assists and made 55 of 131 (42 percent) 3-pointers and 32 of 38 free throws (84.2 percent). He was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Senior guard Matt Muntean averaged nine points and made 30 of 71 (42.3 percent) 3-point attempts and was special mention all-league, and senior guard Tyler Welch averaged 5.6 points and 1.9 assists and was honorable mention all-league.
Rounding out the senior class were forward Bo Scheper and guard Sam DeRoy, who averaged 4.3 and 4.2 points, respectively.
Expected back are juniors Cam Cook (guard), Marshal Davis (forward), Mike DeLeon (forward), Law Jones (forward) and Zach Nice (forward) and sophomore Nate Wilke (post player).
DeLeon averaged a team-high 12.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Jones and Nice averaged 3.2 and 2.6 points, respectively.
"We've got a great group of kids coming back," coach Nossaman said. "They're tough and they work hard and will come back ready to try to keep us going."
Orange reached first district final
Orange finished 15-10 overall after losing to 10th-seeded and defending state champion Pickerington Central 62-55 in a Division I district final March 9 at the Fairgrounds.
Senior guard Nick Deitsch had 28 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead the 18th-seeded Pioneers, who were making their first district final appearance. Senior post player Brady Harris added 12 points.
"We played great in the postseason and I think these guys wanted to show what they could do," said coach Anthony Calo, whose team lost three of its final four regular-season games. "We said at the beginning of the year that our goal was to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season, and we were able to do that."
Orange reached a district final by defeating Franklin Heights 50-32 in the first round Feb. 23, sixth-seeded Zanesville 52-48 in the second round March 1 and fourth-seeded New Albany 46-45 in overtime in a district semifinal March 6.
Deitsch scored the winning basket against New Albany on a tip-in with less than a second left. The Pioneers had lost to the Eagles twice in OCC-Capital play, falling 68-54 on Dec. 7 and 54-34 on Jan. 18.
"That was a big win for us," said Calo, who completed his first season. "But we played a tough schedule against teams like Northland, (seventh-seeded) Coffman and playing in a league with New Albany, Delaware and Olentangy. All of those tough games helped us out (in the postseason)."
Orange went 8-6 in the OCC-Capital to place fourth, behind New Albany (14-0), Delaware (11-3) and Olentangy (10-4) and ahead of Franklin Heights (5-9), Mount Vernon (3-11), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Big Walnut (2-12).
The Pioneers lose eight seniors, led by Deitsch, who averaged a team-high 16.2 points and 3.5 assists and made 61 of 173 (35.3 percent) 3-pointers. He was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league.
Harris averaged 9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and was second-team all-league. Senior forward Tyler Dillard averaged 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds and was special mention all-league, senior forward Declan Feery averaged seven points and 6.5 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league and senior point guard Brandon Blake averaged five points and three assists.
"This group of seniors never gave up and was a great example for the younger kids," Calo said. "It's their first time they made it to the district final and the first time in a district semifinal in Division I, so they will have a great legacy."
Expected to return are juniors Dave Dawson (guard), Chase Mosher (guard) and Andrew Peura (forward) and freshmen post players Haydn Audsley and Grant Gossard.
"We will be super young with only Dave Dawson in the rotation from this season," Calo said. "We will be young, but they are a hardworking group and it should be a lot of fun."