After winning eight Division I district championships in the school's first eight years, the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team will begin next season hoping to break a less pleasant streak.
For the second consecutive year, the Panthers' season ended in a Division I district final against OCC-Ohio Division foe Gahanna. On March 2 at Jonathan Alder, ninth-seeded North came back from 12 points down with four minutes to go and got within one in the final 16 seconds before falling 49-46 to the second-seeded Lions.
"They're extremely athletic and quick and we didn't have the usual emotion and energy we've had the last couple weeks," coach Dave Butcher said. "Finally, the last eight to 10 minutes, we started picking it up and all of a sudden we were carrying the game to them. That's what I wanted the entire game.
"It was right there for us to grab. We had a few bad breaks ... including the last shot of the basketball game."
Senior guard Quiera Lampkins scored 16 points and senior guard Chrishna Butler added 10 for Gahanna, which led 26-16 at halftime and 39-27 three minutes into the fourth quarter before withstanding the Panthers' comeback. Sophomore guard Emily Thomas hit two 3-pointers and senior guard Christy Macioce added a 3 with 16 seconds to play to cut Gahanna's lead to 47-46.
Lampkins hit two free throws with 11.6 seconds left, and North twice failed to get off would-be tying shots. Junior forward Brittany Johnson was called for an offensive foul with 2.7 seconds left as she tried to shake off defender Maddison Blackwell, and Macioce was unable to launch a clean 3-point attempt as time expired.
North finished 17-9 overall and 9-5 in the OCC-Ohio.
"We tried not to give them any 3s," said Gahanna coach Rick Hauser, whose team advanced to play Olentangy Orange in a regional semifinal March 6. "We tried to make them go to the basket more. The only one who consistently drove to the basket was Thomas. That was the plan, to chase them off the line and cut down their 3s."
Thomas scored 17 points and Johnson added 13. Johnson had 20 points in the Panthers' 51-46 win over Gahanna on Feb. 8.
"Once we started reversing and then attacking the basket, we were in good shape," said Butcher, who was called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter with North trailing 35-27. "Thomas had a really nice fourth quarter. Macioce hit a big shot (and finished with six points). Johnson got to the foul line (where she was 7-for-8). We knew we could do those things, but we didn't do enough of them early in the game."
Gahanna's 63-46 win over North in a district final last year snapped the Panthers' district title streak and that of 23 overall for Butcher dating to the original Pickerington High School, now Pickerington Central.
North tied Central for third in the OCC-Ohio behind Reynoldsburg (14-0) and Gahanna (11-3) and ahead of Newark (6-8), Lancaster (5-9), Grove City (2-12) and Groveport (0-14). Gahanna also beat North 50-42 on Jan. 8.
In the district tournament, the Panthers routed Marion-Franklin 83-18 in a first-round home game Feb. 14 and upset sixth-seeded and host Westerville North 50-42 in a second-round game Feb. 20 before defeating seventh-seeded Olentangy 54-53 in a district semifinal Feb. 28 at Jonathan Alder on Macioce's 3-pointer with a second to play.
North stayed healthy for much of the season, although Thomas missed the first five games recovering from a broken ankle sustained during soccer season. She averaged 9.6 points and was honorable mention all-league.
Macioce, a University of Dayton signee and the Panthers' only senior, averaged 14.8 points and 11 rebounds and was named first-team all-league and first-team all-district. Johnson (12.1 points) was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
North's win over Marion-Franklin also made Butcher the state's all-time winningest coach. He is 686-88, three wins ahead of Beavercreek's Ed Zink (683-205).
The expected returnees include three starters in junior forwards Morgan Bassett-Smith and Jordan Toohey and sophomore guard Aubrey Lukascko. Others who saw playing time included sophomore guards Jordan Andrews and Blake Collins and sophomore forward Alayna Khan.
"This team never quit all year. They have a lot of guts, a lot of courage," Butcher said. "Our major problem was a lot of games where we couldn't put 32 minutes together. A lot of times it was 20, 25 or 28. (Against Gahanna), we played a decent second half. We just put ourselves too far behind."