Please forgive the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team for being selfish when it comes to the KeyBank Holiday Classic.

Please forgive the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team for being selfish when it comes to the KeyBank Holiday Classic.

The Panthers rallied late to defeat Louisville (Ky.) DuPont Manual 56-46 in last year's championship game to earn the first title in their home tournament since 2003, the year North opened. The seven members of this year's senior class were fifth-graders at the time.

"It was a team goal to bring it back," 5-foot-10 senior forward Paige Stought said. "We knew it had been awhile. We didn't want the trophy going anywhere else."

It took a strong push down the stretch for the Panthers to pull it off. They outscored DuPont Manual 18-4 in the fourth quarter and overcame a 46-43 deficit with less than five minutes remaining.

Point guard Nicole Olszewski, now a freshman at Austin Peay State University, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Kavunaa Edwards, a 6-0 senior post player who has signed with Villanova, totaled 50 points in the three victories. Stought came off the bench to provide 13 points in the title game.

The goal now is for the Panthers to become the first team at North to win consecutive KeyBank championships.

"Last year, we played a real good Louisville team that was ranked nationally, so we were the underdog," said coach Dave Butcher, whose team was 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division after losing to Reynoldsburg 52-38 last Friday. "It'll be different this year as the defending champion."

The Panthers, who played Gahanna last Tuesday, had allowed an average 35.5 points through four games. It's the defensive number that stands out to Butcher, who earned his sixth state title at Pickerington in 1998-99 when the school district had one high school. That season, the Tigers set the program record for points allowed (32.3) while being named USA Today's national champions.

"We're playing really well at the defensive end; that always leads to good things," Butcher said after North defeated Pickerington Central 53-30 on Dec. 11. "And (against Central) we showed we're starting to make better decisions in transition, too."

The Panthers returned four starters and eight of their top 10 players from last season, when they finished 23-2, including a forfeit loss, and advanced to a Division I regional final.

Edwards averaged a team-high 12.2 points through three games. Shelby Olszewski, a senior guard, was averaging 11.1 points and 5-10 senior forward Jenna Andreas was averaging 9.6.

North had made 19 3-pointers through three games, led by Shelby Olszewski and Andreas with six each. Sophomore guard Christy Macioce and junior point guard Jaila Kee-Bryant also are threats from the perimeter, and junior Taylor Jones has been another contributor. Jordan Householder, a 6-0 senior post player, brings additional size to the frontcourt.

Shelby Olszewski also has signed to play at Austin Peay and Stought will play at Ohio Dominican. The other seniors are Bria Booker and Mary Johann.

"We're playing as a team," Stought said. "Kavunaa gets a lot of attention, and that opens up things for everyone else. We can press (defensively), get out and run and score transition points. Our depth is definitely an advantage."