Pickerington High School North girls basketball coach Dave Butcher did something Feb. 20 that he's rarely done in 31 seasons.
He jumped for joy with 36 seconds left in a second-round district tournament game, confident his team had sealed a victory.
Junior forward Brittany Johnson's layup gave the ninth-seeded Panthers a 10-point lead en route to a 50-42 win at sixth-seeded Westerville North. That sent Pickerington North into a Division I district semifinal against seventh-seeded Olentangy at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Jonathan Alder.
"(Westerville North) kept coming back. This is such a relief," said Johnson, who had nine points to senior guard Christy Macioce's team-high 13 as the Panthers improved to 16-8. "I had a time earlier this season where I couldn't hit a shot to save my life. I've picked it back up. This feels much better."
Butcher didn't try to downplay the importance of the win. He chose that route at the tournament draw, knowing a road game against a higher seed in the second round was likely. In 31 seasons at North and Pickerington, Butcher's teams have never lost a second-round game.
"We've lost so many close games. I didn't want it to come down to three or four points again," said Butcher, referring to earlier losses to Centerville (39-35 on Dec. 29), Solon (49-48 on Jan. 21) and Pickerington Central (47-45 in overtime Jan. 29). "We don't play until (Thursday, Feb. 28) and really, that's not a bad deal right now.
"Going into the tournament, I was thinking: 'Was it smart?' But we hadn't played hard since Gahanna (a 51-46 win Feb. 15). We forgot what intensity we needed. ... We could have lost and I'd have asked myself why I went to this bracket. We're in (a district semifinal) now. There are always going to be good teams. We'll wing it and see what happens."
The Panthers did not play Olentangy during the regular season, although the Braves participated in the Lady Panther Holiday Classic. Olentangy went 1-2 in that event from Dec. 27-29, losing to Fairborn 47-41 in the fifth-place game.
The Braves, who are 20-4 and went 12-2 in the OCC-Capital Division, are led by senior forwards Megan Beidelman (12 points, 9 rebounds per game) and Lydia Hyburg (9 points, 5 rebounds) and senior guard Brooke Zwayer (8.4 points, 3 rebounds).
Olentangy defeated Hilliard Darby 67-19 in a first-round game Feb. 16 and Mount Vernon 80-35 in the second round Feb. 20.
"Olentangy presents some problems," Butcher said. "They play extremely hard. They have a lot of size, a lot of depth and they've played a nice schedule. They'll be a really tough ballclub."
The semifinal winner will play second-seeded Gahanna or 12th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district final at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Jonathan Alder. The district champion will play Dublin Coffman, Northland, Olentangy Orange or Zanesville in a regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein University, and that winner will play in a regional final at 7:15 p.m. March 8 at Otterbein.
North split two OCC-Ohio games with Gahanna, losing 50-42 on Jan. 8 and winning 51-46 on Feb. 15 in its league and regular-season finale. The Lions defeated North 63-46 in a district final last year, snapping the team's streak of nine consecutive district titles and 23 overall for Butcher.
The Panthers didn't play Coffman, Northland, Orange, Scioto or Zanesville during the regular season.
"These tougher games we've had, we've learned how to deal with the situation and close things out," Macioce said. "It's all about doing the little things right down the stretch."