Knowing he would be depended on to play center for the DeSales High School boys basketball team despite standing 6-foot-2, Chris Fleisher has followed a plan he hopes leads to steady improvement.
The sophomore put on about 15 pounds of muscle from last year, bulking up to 170, and hopes to add at least 15 more pounds by this time next year. He also channels the experience gained from playing defensive end on the football team into what coach Pat Murphy calls a “junkyard dog mentality.”
“It’s definitely been more physical this year than in past years, and I think playing football has really helped,” Fleisher said. “If I go up against a taller center who’s maybe 6-6, my strength can help compensate for the height difference.
“I played center last year, and I figured I would be center again because I’m the second-tallest player on the team.”
Fleisher has started at center all season and, according to Murphy, his growth has been emblematic of the other inside players. Danny Bogue has been Fleisher’s backup, Anthony Sciarroni has rotated into power forward after starting the season as a point guard and freshman guard Desmond Watson has seen time inside as well.
“(Murphy) always talks about ‘JYD,’ (being a) junkyard dog. We’re just playing our hardest and it’s paying off,” Sciarroni said. “He said that and we keep it in the back of our minds. Sometimes we’re smaller, so we have to work harder. For me, some of my football comes out in me playing against bigger guys.”
Fleisher played a role in the Stallions’ biggest comeback of the season, as they erased a 15-point deficit Feb. 26 in the first round of the Division II district tournament to defeat host and 11th-seeded Linden-McKinley 86-75. Two Fleisher baskets in the second quarter helped turn the tide as the 13th-seeded Stallions trailed 26-11 but outscored the Panthers 75-49 the rest of the way.
DeSales is 12-11 entering a second-round game Saturday, March 3, at sixth-seeded Jonathan Alder.
Fleisher had 10 points for his first double-digit scoring performance since a 71-59 win at Licking Heights on Dec. 16.
“Our toughness physically and mentally has improved a lot from the first game to game (23),” Murphy said. “The last five or six games, we’ve been a much mentally and physically tougher team. It’s stuff we’ve been preaching every day. Every team is like a baby, like a child, and they learn at their own speed. They’re starting to figure things out.”
DeSales had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 73-67 loss to visiting Beechcroft in its regular-season finale Feb. 20. Before that game, the Stallions had defeated Sparta Highland (53-43 on Feb. 10), St. Charles (41-37 in overtime Feb. 16) and Dresden Tri-Valley (47-42 on Feb. 17).
The Stallions trailed Beechcroft, the top seed in the Division II district tournament, 38-23 at halftime but rallied to tie the game at 62 on Kobe Righter’s three-point play with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left in regulation.
A Sciarroni layup with 1:52 to go made it 67-66, but DeSales got no closer in a game it hoped provided both momentum and confidence entering the tournament.
Watson had a career-high 23 points against Linden. Kayin Derden scored 20 and Righter added 15.
“We all played together (against Beechcroft) and passed the ball well,” Fleisher said. “That’s how we should be playing every game, and that’s how we can play.”
The DeSales-Jonathan Alder winner will play second-seeded Eastmoor Academy or 19th-seeded Lakewood in a district semifinal Tuesday, March 6, at a neutral site to be determined. The district final is March 10 at Africentric.
Four wrestlers heading to district
Four of the five wrestlers who competed in a Division II sectional Feb. 23 and 24 at Licking Valley qualified for the district tournament Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, at Uhrichsville Claymont.
Louis Dytko placed second at 138 pounds, going 3-1 and losing to Licking Valley's Dylan Dodson 11-6 in the final. Other district qualifiers are Anthony Cua (182, third, 4-1), Cole Potts (heavyweight, third, 3-1) and Keishawn Allen (132, fourth, 3-2).
DeSales scored 84 points and finished ninth behind champion Caledonia River Valley (169) as 20 teams scored.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district.
Dytko has a team-best 32-6 record, while Potts leads the team in wins at 36-9.
Potts credited football for helping him build on his 17-18 record last year as a freshman.
"Football helped me a lot with wrestling (in terms of) being more aggressive and getting stronger," Potts said. "I'm having a much better year than I was last year."
Also competing at sectional but failing to advance was Josh Morse, who went 2-2 at 126.
At district, the top four finishers in each weight class advance to state March 8-10 at Ohio State.
O'Reilly leads gymnasts at district
Kaitlyn O'Reilly led the gymnastics team in every event at the district meet Feb. 24 at Worthington Kilbourne, but the Stallions still fell short of the team and individual state meets.
O'Reilly tied for 11th on uneven bars (8.45), finished 12th (8.9) on balance beam, tied for 16th on vault (8.55), tied for 24th on floor exercise (8.7) and finished 10th in all-around (34.6).
DeSales scored 81 points to finish last of 26 teams, behind champion Thornville Sheridan (145.425).
The top three teams advanced to the team state meet Friday, March 2, at Hilliard Bradley, while the top eight individuals in each event and the all-around advanced to the individual state meet Saturday, March 3, at Bradley.
Girls bowling season ends at sectional
The girls bowling team's season came to an end Feb. 24 when it finished 34th (2,222) in the 37-team Division I sectional at HP Lanes, behind champion Gahanna (3,642).
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Saturday, March 3, at HP Lanes.
Skyla Blumenscheid bowled a 387 three-game series to finish 87th to pace DeSales. Also competing in all three games were Johnaiya Talbert (125th, 322), Olivia Houlihan (tied for 126th, 317) and Audrey Nave (tied for 139th, 293).
Girls basketball team losing top scorer
The girls basketball team will be losing 40 percent of its scoring to graduation in senior guards Emma Burns and Sarah Zaino, but coach Brian Cromwell hopes the performances of his younger players adds to the team's foundation.
Seeded 27th, DeSales lost at 12th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley 53-37 on Feb. 17 in the first round of the Division I district tournament to finish 10-12 overall. The Stallions went 3-4 in the CCL to place third, behind Hartley (6-1) and Watterson (5-2) and ahead of Ready (2-5) and Columbus School for Girls (0-4).
"With the amount of younger players we had, I expected us to be a continually improving team and I think we were," coach Brian Cromwell said. "I've been here eight years and while the foundation of the program was in place before I got here, these players really helped build on the foundation we already have. We saw a lot of improvement."
Burns averaged a team-high 17.1 points and 3.0 assists and was named second-team all-district, and Zaino averaged 4.5 points.
Burns is the fifth-leading scorer in program history with 1,284 points. She scored her 1,000th career point Dec. 9 during a 46-32 win over Dublin Jerome.
"She can definitely shoot the basketball, but what I think I'll remember most about her is the consistency she brought to practices and games day in and day out," Cromwell said. "She's been our point guard ever since her freshman year. She had a consistently great work ethic."
Junior guard/forward Gabby Elliott averaged 10 points and made honorable mention all-district, and sophomore guard Erin Burns averaged 6.2 points.
Other expected returnees include juniors Taylor Cash (guard) and Ashley Kraker (center) and sophomore Katie Schuler (guard).
Swimming coach sees positive trend
Seven of the swimming teams' 10 district qualifiers are expected to return, four on the girls team and three on the boys side.
Both teams had five swimmers advance to district, but none qualified for state.
"The highlight of the season would be getting five individual guys to qualify for districts in eight different events," third-year coach Ryan Buechner said. "I had zero my first season here, one individual last year and then to jump to five this year was a large accomplishment. Having 11 guys on the team -- each (of whom) can do multiple events -- was certainly a strength as we could compete with other teams by filling up all the event categories.
"On the girls side ... Mary Ruff had a dramatically improved season by dropping two seconds in the 100(-yard) backstroke and qualifying for districts in a second event (the 200 freestyle)."
The boys finished 21st (22 points) in the Division II district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio University behind champion Columbus Academy (324) as 31 teams scored. The next day in the Division I district meet at OU, the girls scored one point to tie Newark for 29th behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored.
The boys team will be losing two district qualifiers in senior Zane Marmie (50 free, 200 free relay) and senior Mitchell Mayerchak (50 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay), but expects to return three other district qualifiers in juniors Ian McCandlish (100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay) and Jonathan Randel (200 individual medley, 200 medley relay) and sophomore Aaron Spittell (200 free, 500 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay).
Ruff, a senior, qualified for district in the 100 back and 200 free as well as on the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay with juniors Anna Sears and Julia Wilkes.
Junior Fiona Brown also was on the 200 medley relay, and freshman Annamarie DeGuzman rounded out the 400 free relay.
In the CCL meet Jan. 27 at St. Charles, the boys scored 179 points to finish third behind St. Charles (464) and Watterson (225) and ahead of Hartley (161) and Ready (14), while the girls scored 111 points to place fourth behind CSG (386), Watterson (325) and Hartley (266) and ahead of Ready (30).
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
*Record: 10-12 overall, 3-4 (third) in CCL
*Seniors lost: Emma Burns and Sarah Zaino
*Key returnees: Erin Burns, Taylor Cash, Gabby Elliott, Ashley Kraker and Katie Schuler
SWIMMING & DIVING
*Finishes: Boys -- Third in CCL, first at sectional, 21 st at district; Girls -- Third in CCL, ninth at sectional, tied for 29th at district
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Daniel Freeman, Jurvens Jean-Raymond, Zane Marmie, Mitchell Mayerchak, Zion Parker, A.J. Sallee and Cole Trejchel; Girls -- Anna D'Andrea, Olivia Moyler, Mary Ruff, Jacqueline Scott and Erin Walsh
*Key returnees: Boys -- Ian McCandlish, Jonathan Randel and Aaron Spittell; Girls -- Fiona Brown, Anna Sears and Julia Wilkes