Jalen Brown and his teammates on the Westland High School boys basketball team faced Olentangy Liberty twice during the regular season. But as far as the senior forward/guard is concerned, the third meeting between the OCC-Central Division foes carries a little more weight.
The 11th-seeded Cougars face third-seeded Liberty in a Division I district semifinal at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at Marysville, with the winner playing top-seeded Northland or 20th-seeded Walnut Ridge in a district final at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The Cougars handed Liberty its only loss in their first league matchup, winning 70-62 on Dec. 21 at home. The Patriots won the second meeting, 58-44 on Feb. 1 at Liberty, and en route to capturing the OCC-Central title, finished 13-1 in league play as Dublin Coffman (12-2) and Westland (9-5) rounded out the top three.
"I can't wait," Brown said. "We got them the first time and they got us the second time. This is a big one. This is the one that counts, so I'm ready."
In the first meeting with Liberty, guard Kersey Long scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Cougars. Guard KyJuan Grace had 16 points guard/forward J.J. Smith had 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Forward Devin Williamson also scored 15 points in that contest, but he hasn't played since late January when, according to coach Todd Parker, he was ruled academically ineligible.
Guards Matt Muntean and Nick Nossaman and 6-foot-5 forward Mike DeLeon each had 14 points for the Patriots.
In the second matchup, Long had a team-high nine points and 6-4 forward Alex Radkiewicz had 16 points and DeLeon scored 15 to lead Liberty, which beat 23rd-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley 49-47 in a second-round game Feb. 27 to improve to 22-1.
Radkiewicz was named OCC-Central Player of the Year.
"It's always interesting to play a team a third time because you know them so well," said Parker, whose team defeated 24th-seeded Westerville Central 77-62 in a second-round game Feb. 27 at home to improve to 18-6. "It's almost like scrimmaging your second group. We know what to do, how to beat them. The thing is, though, they know how to beat us also and they have the better record, so they've done a little bit better job so far than we have."
Northland, which was ranked first in the final state poll, improved to 24-0 with a 104-50 win over 41st-seeded Central Crossing in a second-round game Feb. 27. The Vikings had five players score in double figures, including 6-6 post player Jaylen Tucker with 20 points and 6-7 post player Seth Towns with 18.
Walnut Ridge improved to 14-8 with a 46-39 win over 12th-seeded Westerville South in a second-round game Feb. 27. Rob Wheelwright, a 6-3 forward, had 16 points to lead the Scots and 6-2 guard Dymiere Finch scored 14.
Westland has not played Northland nor Walnut Ridge this season.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal March 13 at the Fairgrounds.
Westland had four players score in double figures against Central in Long (26), Smith (16), Grace (12) and Brown (11).
"We're just trying to get better every game," Parker said. "When we're playing our game, we feel like we can play with anybody and (against Central) we got a good, quick start, which was important. That's paramount. I don't think they realized how quick we really are. We were concerned about their size."
Westland opened the district tournament with a 67-59 win over 27th-seeded Briggs on Feb. 23 at home.
Wrestlers end season at district
Neither of the two members of the wrestling team who competed in the Division I district tournament qualified for state.
Junior Devyn Van Handel went 1-2 at 138 pounds at district, held Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby, to finish 22-19 on the season. He pinned Liberty's Matt Snyder in 2 minutes, 57 seconds in a consolation match.
Junior Tommy Stone went 0-2 at 170 to finish 29-16.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district advanced to the state tournament, which was held Feb. 28 through March 2 at Ohio State.
"I was very happy in the sense that we had two kids make it to district and they will both be seniors (next year), so they will give us senior leadership next year," coach Bret Busby said. "This district is incredibly difficult."
Westland scored three points at district to finish 32nd behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
Gymnastics team competes at district
The gymnastics team ended its season in the district meet Feb. 23 at Worthington Kilbourne.
Westland finished 23rd (97.375) of 24 teams, behind champion Kilbourne (140.625).
Kilbourne, Coffman (138.925) and Thomas Worthington (136.125) advanced to the team state team March 1 at Hilliard Bradley. The top nine finishers in each event and the all-around advanced to the individual state meet March 2 at Bradley, but Westland did not have any qualifiers.
Junior Brenna Nutini led the Cougars with a 24.8 in the all-around, placing 90th of 97 competitors. She had a 7.25 on vault, 5.4 on uneven bars, 5.65 on balance beam and 6.5 on floor exercise.
Sophomore Aleeah Ruthers finished 93rd in the all-around with a 22.85. Her highest score came on beam (6.15).
Also competing at district but not participating in the all-around were sophomores Kate Antonyuk and Moene' Mickens and freshmen Donna Mayhew and Ogo Obiagwu.
Also on the team were junior Taylor Wegman and freshmen Kylun Campbell, Colleen Hotelling and Katlyn Mullett.
Westland, which had no seniors, was 1-4 in league duals and finished fifth (101.525) in the OCC-Central meet Feb. 9 at Thomas, behind Kilbourne (137.45), Hilliard Davidson (127.225), Liberty (125.525) and Delaware (111.25) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (89.25).