Point guard R.J. Mims said the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys basketball team has accomplished the first of its four goals.
The Rams clinched the program's first league title since the 1992-93 season, defeating Grandview 53-51 on Feb. 14 at home. Whitehall also avenged its only league loss, a 56-53 setback against the Bobcats on Dec. 17.
The Rams won the MSL-Ohio Division at 13-1, while Grandview was second at 10-3 after losing to Columbus Academy 55-43 on Feb. 15.
The 1992-93 team won the OCC-Capital on its way to reaching the Division II state final, which it lost to Girard 64-57.
The league title "was one of the four goals that we had coming into the season," Mims said. "We want to win district, regional and state. We have to stay focused and play as a team every game, every moment."
Whitehall opens the Division II district tournament Saturday, Feb. 22, at home against 20th-seeded Lakewood. The Rams are 16-6 overall and seeded seventh.
Lakewood, which is 10-12, previously played in the MSL-Ohio before moving to the Licking County League before this school year. Last season, Whitehall defeated the Lancers twice by identical 56-54 scores, once in overtime.
The winner plays 10th-seeded Bexley or 16th-seeded Licking Valley in the second round Feb. 27 at the home of the better seed. Whitehall defeated Bexley 74-68 on Jan. 13 and 61-58 on Feb. 8 in league play.
The second-round winner advances to a district semifinal March 5 at Newark, possibly against top-seeded and defending state champion Watterson, with the district final March 7 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
In the rematch against Grandview, C.J. Prater's tip-in with 24 seconds remaining gave the Rams a 52-51 lead.
"It was nice to be on the winning side of that. I'll take it," coach Drew Williams said.
Trailing 51-48 with 1:05 left, Troy Bennett had a steal and assisted on an Antoine Vaughn layup to cut Whitehall's deficit to one.
D.A. Sanders, who capped Whitehall's scoring with a free throw, led the Rams with 17 points.
"It feels great," Mims said. "It's the best feeling I've ever had in my high school career."
Williams thanked the community for supporting the team.
"It was good to see the community come out and support these kids," Williams said. "They haven't won a championship since 1993. That was one of our goals from day one. We focused on winning the league first. I was happy for the community of Whitehall to see all the people out there. ... It was just a great rallying point for our community. That was a community win."
Whitehall lost at home to St. Charles 58-57 on Feb. 11 when the Cardinals' Sean Hennessey hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game as time expired.
Mims led Whitehall with 22 points, Vaughn scored 12 and Prater had 11.
Three wrestlers advance to district
The wrestling team qualified three competitors for the Division II district tournament Friday, Feb. 21, and Saturday, Feb. 22, at Uhrichsville Claymont.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district will advance to state Feb. 27-March 1 at Ohio State.
Advancing to district from the Madison Plains sectional Feb. 15 were Noah Jay at 106 pounds, Ana Abduljelil at 113 and Josh Pace at 182. The top four in each class advanced.
Jay (30-3) finished first after defeating Buckeye Valley's Jordan Anthony 8-2 in the final.
Abduljelil (43-1) also finished first, winning in his final by technical fall 22-7 over Amanda-Clearcreek's Joey Coe.
Pace (17-14) placed fourth as the Rams finished seventh (107 points) of 11 teams behind champion Amanda-Clearcreek (228).
"I am very proud of the three qualifiers," coach Steve Pennington said. "They have worked really hard this season to make it out. I am disappointed in the number of qualifiers. We really thought we could get six to districts."
Last season at state, Abduljelil finished fifth at 113.
Bowling teams to compete at sectional
The boys and girls bowling teams will compete in a Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, at Eastland Lanes.
The top 20 boys and girls teams and top 20 boys and girls individuals not on a qualifying teams advance to district March 1 at Eastland Lanes.
Girls basketball team opens district tourney
The girls basketball team played at third-seeded Centennial in a Division II district tournament second-round game Feb. 19.
The Rams, who went 3-19 in the regular season, were seeded 18th and had a first-round bye.
The winner plays fifth-seeded Hartley, 15th-seeded Caledonia River Valley or 16th-seeded Columbus South in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Gahanna. The district final is March 1 at Gahanna.