For the fourth time this season, the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team had a chance to defeat an upper-echelon opponent when it played Centerville in the championship game of the 26th Lady Panther Holiday Classic.
For the fourth time this season, the Panthers came up short.
North made no field goals in the final 4 minutes, 13 seconds and only two in the final 16:09 and lost possession on a clock snafu after an intentional foul call in the closing seconds en route to a 39-35 loss on Dec. 29.
The Panthers had won the Holiday Classic last season and were seeking their fourth title in the 10 years that they have been the host. Before North opened in 2003, Pickerington won the event eight times in 16 seasons.
"We're not a great offensive team, but we played as hard as we could play," coach Dave Butcher said. "I still thought it was our game to win even with 12 seconds to go. I thought we had a great chance. There were a lot of things that went crazy in the last 25 seconds. That's basketball, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
"Our kids have been extremely close to beating very good teams a few times this year. You have to make plays at the end of the game to do it, and right now we don't seem to be doing that."
Senior forward Christy Macioce had a team-high 10 points and six rebounds for North, which led 24-13 with two minutes to play in the first half. But Centerville, which improved to 10-1, started the second half on an 11-4 run. Elks guard Bethany Krause made a layup and a 3-pointer and guard Alex Henning, a Bucknell University recruit, added two layups and assisted on a third to tie the game at 28.
Krause's 3-pointer with 3:13 to play gave Centerville the lead for good at 36-35.
"In the first half, we were a little out of control and we were playing at their pace instead of ours," said Henning, who was named tournament Most Valuable Player. "We get shots when we're running fast breaks. We were trying to get back to that."
North trailed 37-35 with 12.5 seconds left when sophomore guard Emily Thomas was called for an intentional foul against Krause, who made one of two free throws. Centerville retained possession but was called for a five-second violation, turning the ball over to the Panthers next to its basket. However, the clock accidentally was started and ran to 11.7 seconds, by rule giving the ball back to Centerville.
Henning made two free throws with 9.3 seconds left to seal the win.
North's other losses have been to Newark (52-50 in double overtime on Dec. 7), Reynoldsburg (50-32 on Dec. 14) and four-time defending Division II state champion Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown (58-52 on Nov. 23). Reynoldsburg made Division I state tournament appearances in 2010 and last season and Newark entered the week 6-2, with its only in-state loss coming against Gahanna (56-53 on Dec. 14).
The Panthers advanced to the Holiday Classic final by defeating Toledo Start 58-27 on Dec. 27 and Philadelphia Archbishop Ryan 45-39 on Dec. 28. Thomas had a game-high 17 points against Start. Junior forward Brittany Johnson had 13 points and Thomas scored 11 against Archbishop Ryan.
"Our defense is good (but) we have to do better offensively," Butcher said. "When you play these great teams, we have to find a go-to kid where we can get some points on the board. Right now, we're not finding that and that's what we have to find."
Macioce and Thomas were named to the all-tournament team, along with Centerville's Madison Rittinger, Fairborn's Alexis Gassion and Dominique Redman, Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) Seton-LaSalle Catholic's Naje Gibson, Natalie Piagessi and Cassidy Walsh, Northland's Alexis Peterson, Olentangy's Megan Beidelman and Archbishop Ryan's Kalene Coffey.
Seton-LaSalle Catholic, the defending Class AA champions in Pennsylvania, won the third-place game, defeating Archbishop Ryan 54-27. Fairborn beat Olentangy 47-41 in the fifth-place game and Northland defeated Toledo Start 84-42 in the seventh-place game.