One of Jimmy Hanley's fondest memories came in March of his sixth-grade year when he made a trip to Ohio University to watch the Ready High School boys basketball team compete in the 2008 Division III regional tournament.
That season, the Silver Knights beat Wheelersburg 48-46 in a regional semifinal before losing to Sugarcreek Garaway 51-47 in a regional final.
Now one of eight seniors in the program, Hanley helped Ready get back to that level with a 47-35 win over Wheelersburg in a regional semifinal March 12 at Ohio University.
"We played here over the summer and did well, so it's nice being back," Hanley said. "In 2008, I remember the regional final was so cool to see. As soon as that happened, I had a dream of coming here."
With this year's win over Wheelersburg, Ready took a 20-5 record into a regional final March 15 against Lucasville Valley.
The regional champion plays in a state semifinal at 10:45 a.m. Friday, March 21, at Ohio State against the winner of the Canton regional. Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph played Canton Central Catholic and Creston Norwayne faced Youngstown Ursuline in regional semifinals March 13, with the winners of those matchups meeting for a regional title March 15.
The state final is 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Ohio State against the winner of the Kettering Fairmont regional or the Bowling Green regional.
Cincinnati Summit Country Day and St. Bernard Roger Bacon played in a regional final March 15 at Fairmont. Worthington Christian played Lima Central Catholic and Huron faced Ottawa-Glandorf in regional semifinals March 13 at Ohio Northern, with the winners meeting for a regional title March 15 at Bowling Green.
In its regional semifinal win, Ready went on a 7-0 run to begin the second half to build a 29-19 lead. The Knights never led by fewer than seven after that and extended the advantage to as much as 47-30 with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining.
Ready, which made 11 of 19 second-half shots, got 12 points from Josh Gantz and Shane Lee and nine from Hanley.
The Knights' previous state appearances came in 1972, 1973, 2002 and 2010.
While Wheelersburg finished 16-8, Valley beat Martins Ferry 69-49 in the other semifinal to improve to 24-2 and set up the regional championship matchup.
Lee also savored competing in the regional tournament for the first time.
"It's really nice," he said. "It's something I've never really experienced before. (The gym and facilities are) beautiful."
Chemistry benefited girls basketball team
Led by a senior class that featured four key players, the girls basketball team made its first Division III district championship run since it won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
The senior group featured Margie Berkemeyer (post player), Bobbie Menke (post player/wing player), Elisabeth Palazzo (post player/wing player) and Caroline Riewe (guard).
"We were all best friends and I think it showed," Riewe said. "Ever since our freshman year, we said our senior year we wanted to win a district championship."
Riewe averaged 10.8 points, 4.5 assists and more than four steals while making third-team all-district. Berkemeyer averaged 10.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot better than 60 percent from the floor while making honorable mention all-district. Menke averaged four points and Palazzo averaged 3.6.
The Silver Knights, who lost to Jamestown Greeneview 50-43 on March 5 in a regional semifinal at Springfield to finish 18-7 overall, expect to return a pair of starters in junior forward Lauren Ruth and sophomore guard Delaney Cutteridge.
Ruth averaged 14.9 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists and shot 51 percent from the floor while making second-team all-district. Cutteridge averaged 8.5 points.
Also eligible to return are sophomores Rachel Neff (forward) and Ellie McAndrew (guard) and freshman Ally Wiseman (guard).
The Knights tied Watterson for second (5-3) in the CCL behind DeSales (6-2) and ahead of Hartley (4-4) and Columbus School for Girls (0-8).
Ready earned the fourth seed for the district tournament and beat 18th-seeded Cardington (64-31 on Feb. 15), 20th-seeded CSG (77-28 on Feb. 19) and 12th-seeded Utica (62-31 on Feb. 25 at Worthington Christian Middle School) to set up a matchup with second-seeded North Union in a district final March 1 at Worthington Christian Middle School.
The Knights, who lost to North Union 50-43 on Jan. 18, won the rematch 59-57 for their fifth district title in 33 seasons under coach Joe Lang.
"Obviously (Ruth and Cutteridge) are going to be huge for us next year," Lang said. "We have some kids from the (junior varsity) team that dressed for the tournament. We've got to become more skilled in the offseason.
"The thing we all felt all along was that besides their work ethic, they truly liked each other. We did not have one second of a problem. And they all competed."