Although his team finished the regular season at 10-12, Westerville North High School boys basketball coach Shan Trusley was pleased the Warriors were competitive in many of their losses.
That is why Trusley was surprised by their 75-58 loss at Westerville South on Feb. 14.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 25-13 lead after one quarter and were never threatened. North trailed by as many as 31 points in the third.
"That's (one of the few times) it's gotten away from us like that all year," Trusley said. "Credit to them. Their last time out they got beat by Dublin Jerome (73-69 in overtime Feb. 7), so I'm sure they had a really spirited week of practice to get ready for us and they played liked it."
The Warriors closed the regular season by losing to then-undefeated Zanesville 73-59 on Feb. 15 at home. The game was tied at 29 at halftime.
Isaiah Keene led North with 20 points and R.J. Hutcherson scored 10.
Zanesville, which is ranked second in the state, lost to Massillon Jackson 56-53 on Feb. 17 for its first loss. The Blue Devils (21-1) are seeded fourth in the Division I district tournament.
Before losing to South, North's largest margin of defeat came against Walnut Ridge, a 63-42 setback in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Jan. 25 at Ohio Dominican.
Against South, North's only lead was at 3-2. The Wildcats went on a 23-10 run to close the first quarter and led 42-26 at halftime.
The Warriors trailed 62-31 late in the third quarter before cutting the final margin to 17.
"Our kids fought back," Trusley said. "Down 30, it would have been very easy to be down 40 and we were able to get it back into the teens. Our kids never quit. They never gave up. That's who this group is. I love coaching these kids. They love playing with each other."
Keene led North with 12 points, followed Hutcherson and Corey Benton with 11 apiece.
"I thought we could do it, but shots weren't falling for us and they made everything," Hutcherson said. "It's hard to get back in it after that. I know we can do better."
Hutcherson scored a game-high 34 points in a 62-61 win at Jerome on Feb. 11.
The Warriors are seeded 25th in the district tournament and play at 16th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in the first round Friday, Feb. 21. The Wolves are 14-8.
"Kilbourne is a good basketball team," Trusley said. "We're familiar with them a little bit because we were in the same league last year, so we played them twice (winning 76-46 and 61-49) and we sort of know their personnel and what they like to do. It's a good matchup for us."
The winner plays at eighth-seeded Westerville Central in the second round Wednesday, Feb. 26. The Warhawks defeated North 58-55 on Dec. 20 and 64-63 on Jan. 31.
The second-round winner plays 10th-seeded Delaware, 18th-seeded New Albany or 22nd-seeded Jerome in a district semifinal March 5 at Olentangy Orange.
"We always tell the kids it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Trusley said. "We have a good opportunity to finish strong, so that's what we're going to get ready to do."
North finished fourth (8-6) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Central (13-1), South (10-4) and Jerome (9-5) and ahead of Hilliard Darby (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (6-8), Canal Winchester (2-12) and Dublin Scioto (1-13).
South looking to gain momentum
South coach Ed Calo was hoping to use the win over North as motivation entering the district tournament.
"We're always looking to build on something," he said. "It's a good start."
The Wildcats were 14-5 overall before closing the regular season Feb. 18 against Buckeye Valley.
South is seeded 11th in the district tournament and plays host to 35th-seeded Hilliard Davidson in the second round Feb. 28. Davidson is 5-17.
Both teams had a first-round bye.
"Their mental state going into the tournament is a big key," Calo said of his team. "I hope that they're excited about it. I hope that it means something to them. If it does, we're going to be in good shape."
The South-Davidson winner advances to a district semifinal March 4 at Central, most likely against Zanesville.
Against North, the Wildcats connected on five 3-pointers in the first quarter to help open a double-digit lead. South made 10 3s in the game.
Jordan Humphrey led a balanced attack with 18 points, followed by Chris Cook with 15, Jelani Rogers with 13 and Andre Wesson with 11.
The win helped the Wildcats bounce back from the overtime loss Feb. 7 at Jerome.
"What makes this even better is we came off a rough week," Calo said.
"We had a whole week to prepare. I know we have young kids. Our kids could have felt sorry for themselves. They could have been really down, but they came back to work and that's what really makes me the happiest about the whole situation. We played our best ballgame of the year."
Central earns first league title since '08
Central celebrated its first league title since 2008 with a 79-75 win at home against Jerome on Feb. 14.
Eric James led the Warhawks with 21 points. Will Maynus scored 15, Erron James had 12 and P.J. Pannell added 10.
Following the game, the Warhawks cut down the nets, with coach Donovon Barrett cutting the final strand.
Central, which could play Jerome again in a district semifinal March 5 at Orange, also defeated the Celtics 77-75 in double overtime Jan. 10.
"Jerome shoots the ball well," Barrett said. "They have some good players and they have shot makers. Both games we built double-digit leads and let them creep back into it. That's something we have to do better. It's been a little thorn in our side at different times this year, so we have to do a little bit better at managing that situation."
Central plays North or Kilbourne in the second round of the district tournament Wednesday, Feb. 26, at home.
The Warhawks were 16-5 overall before playing New Albany on Feb. 18.