With eight league games remaining entering this week, Westerville North High School boys basketball coach Shan Trusley believes his team can stay in the OCC-Cardinal Division title race.
The Warriors were 5-7 overall and 3-3 in the league before playing Canal Winchester on Jan. 21. They visit Dublin Scioto on Friday, Jan. 24, and play host to Dublin Jerome on Tuesday, Jan. 28, in league games.
Jerome is one of the teams North is chasing. Westerville Central leads the league at 7-1, followed by Westerville South (6-2), Jerome (5-2) and Hilliard Darby (5-3).
"We still have goals and one of them is to contend for a league championship, so that's still in place," Trusley said. "We're two games back (in the loss column before Jan. 21) with a bunch of basketball to be played. I don't see anyone running away with the league in the second half of league play."
North earned a key league win Jan. 17, defeating visiting Darby 54-53 after rallying from a 32-24 halftime deficit. R.J. Hutcherson scored a game-high 18 points and Isaiah Keene had 14.
"Our goal should be to win the rest of our games and finish with the best record that we can because there's no reason why we can't win the rest of our games," Hutcherson said.
The win ended a three-game losing streak and completed a regular-season sweep of the Panthers. North defeated Darby 63-45 on Dec. 11.
North lost at defending Division II state champion Watterson 62-52 on Jan. 18. The Warriors led by as many as 11 points in the second half, but the Eagles ended the game on a 21-2 run.
Austin Armwood scored 15 points, Keene had 13 and Hutcherson added 12.
"Watterson is an outstanding basketball team," Trusley said. "It was a one-possession game with less than two minutes and they made a couple plays, to their credit. Our kids fought and played fantastic basketball."
Trusley believes his team's non-league schedule will help prepare it for the postseason. In addition to Watterson, that schedule includes Newark (13-2), Walnut Ridge (11-2 before Jan. 21) and Zanesville (12-0).
North plays Walnut Ridge in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Ohio Dominican University.
"I would put our non-league schedule up against anybody's," Trusley said. "We played Eastmoor (66-65 loss Dec. 3), we played Olentangy Liberty (65-47 win Dec. 14), we played Canton McKinley (55-53 loss Dec. 27). We played Newark and Watterson. We play Zanesville, which is undefeated. The kids want to play these types of games. The kids want to challenge themselves."
North lost at home to Newark 56-48 on Jan. 14, as Hutcherson scored 14 points and Keene had 12.
"We're trying to figure out a way to turn the corner and we will," Trusley said. "We had a good week. We played three good basketball teams (in) Newark, Hilliard Darby and Watterson. The one win we got was really big for us because it was a league win."
Central leads OCC-Cardinal
Central stayed in first in the OCC-Cardinal by beating Scioto 58-32 on Jan. 17 at home.
Eric James scored 16 points and T.J. Pannell had 10.
Central also defeated visiting Olentangy Orange 55-35 on Jan. 14, as Kwamel Wade scored 21 points and Jalen Malone added 16.
"This is a marathon and not a sprint, but the good thing is going through the second time around (in the league) we're driving our own car," coach Donovon Barrett said of his team's lead in the OCC-Cardinal.
Central was 10-3 overall before playing Pickerington Central on Jan. 21.
South on four-game winning streak
Since losing at home to Central 72-61 on Jan. 3, South has won four consecutive games to improve to 10-3 overall.
The Wildcats defeated Pickerington North 68-54 on Jan. 18 at home, as Andre Wesson scored 17 points and Jelani Rogers and Jordan Humphrey each scored 12.
South also defeated visiting Canal Winchester 50-31 in a league game Jan. 17, as Wesson scored 11 points. The 31 points was a season-low defensive effort for the Wildcats.
"We are just really focused on trying to get better every day," coach Ed Calo said. "We have a lot of room to grow, but we have people willing to work, so we expect improvement. We need to be more consistent in our play, but that is part of the process of having some growing pains."