A 40-hour stretch that began with a milestone for the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team ended with another disappointing finish to the season.
Two days after coach Dave Butcher earned his 700th career victory in a Division I district semifinal, the Panthers rarely were in sync in a district final against Northland on March 1 at Ohio Dominican. Shooting difficulties and a swarming defense from the fourth-seeded Vikings doomed the 14th-seeded Panthers in a 53-32 loss.
North shot 11-for-32 (34.4 percent) from the floor and committed 20 turnovers in losing a district final for the third consecutive year. Senior forward Brittany Johnson and senior center Morgan Bassett-Smith each had eight points to pace the Panthers.
"We never could get a run (together) because we just shot the ball very poorly," said Butcher, whose team finished 14-11 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Ohio Division. "They brought their 'A' game and we didn't have ours. They outplayed us in every phase of the game. They defended well. They outhustled us, they ran the floor and we didn't shoot the ball too well. When you don't shoot the ball well, a lot of things go bad."
Northland led just 26-18 moments into the second half, but three consecutive baskets following turnovers helped pad the lead. Carli Codner-Pinto had a layup off an assist from Ariel Skipper and Brooklynn Peterson scored nine consecutive points -- six of them after turnovers -- to make it 37-18 with a minute left in the third quarter.
"Usually, my teams are defensive-oriented," Northland coach Bill Spencer said. "They (have) bought into the kind of defense we want to play and the kind of defense we have to play."
North beat seventh-seeded Westerville North 50-47 in a semifinal Feb. 27 at Jonathan Alder. Johnson had 15 points and junior guard Aubrey Lukacsko had 12 to lead the Panthers. Sophomore guard Lauren Lipscomb added seven points and a solid defensive effort against Warriors standout Symone Simmons, a first-team all-district guard who averaged 16.5 points during the regular season but had just six against the Panthers.
Butcher, the state's all-time winningest girls coach, is 700-99 in 31 seasons. He is two wins ahead of Beavercreek's Ed Zink, who is 698-214.
North finished fifth in the OCC-Ohio behind Reynoldsburg (12-2), Gahanna (10-4), Newark (10-4) and Pickerington Central (9-5) and ahead of Grove City (4-10), Lancaster (3-11) and Groveport (0-14).
The Panthers defeated 43th-seeded Dublin Scioto 87-13 in a second-round home game Feb. 19.
North's season was hampered by injuries from the start. Senior guard Jordan Toohey returned from an injured left ACL in mid-January, about a week ahead of Johnson's comeback from a microfracture in her right knee. Both were injured last July.
Junior guard Emily Thomas sustained a season-ending tear to her right ACL on Dec. 20.
All three of North's seniors will play Division I college basketball. Bassett-Smith signed with New Hampshire, Johnson will play at Quinnipiac and Toohey signed at Radford.
Lukacsko, who averaged 9.3 points, was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Bassett-Smith was special mention all-league, and sophomore forward Zharia Lenoir was honorable mention all-league.
Tournament upset ends Tigers' season
Central coach Johnathan Hedgepeth readily cites many standout moments from his first season with the Tigers, not the least of which included snapping Reynoldsburg's 54-game league winning streak with a 61-57 overtime victory Jan. 24.
A 57-51 loss to 13th-seeded Olentangy in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 27 at Hamilton Township will be remembered for different reasons. Although the fifth-seeded Tigers led briefly in the second half after trailing by eight points in the first quarter, Central could not hang on.
"They made shots all night and we didn't," Hedgepeth said. "We couldn't buy a basket in the first quarter, and we got in foul trouble on top of that, which took us out of what we do best defensively."
Junior guard Taylor Johnson scored 21 points and junior guard Katrina Williams added 17 as the Tigers finished 17-8.
Central advanced with two lopsided home wins, defeating 42nd-seeded Olentangy Orange 74-33 on Feb. 17 and 44th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley 60-27 on Feb. 19.
According to Hedgepeth, more memorable wins came earlier in the season. Central got at least one win each over Gahanna, Newark, North and Reynoldsburg -- teams Hedgepeth termed "the big four" in the OCC-Ohio because of their successful histories.
"Those are wins that gave us confidence and that we can build on," Hedgepeth said. "There are always things you can learn from and improve upon."
Johnson averaged 16.5 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists and was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Williams (team-high 17 points) was second-team all-league and special mention all-district.
Senior forward Amari Hawkins (7.6 points, 6 rebounds) was special mention all-district. Her twin, forward Aajah Hawkins (5.3 points), was honorable mention all-league.