Seniors Jared Ball and Jacob Cover of the Hilliard Darby High School wrestling team capped strong seasons by placing in the Division I state tournament that concluded March 10 at Ohio State.
Ball finished third for the third consecutive season and Cover finished fourth.
Competing at 195 pounds, Ball went 4-1 to finish the season 33-2.
"I don't know how he does it," coach Brendan Moody said. "He had a disappointing loss the last three years here and every single time he bounced back. It was probably long nights (after semifinal losses the past three years), but he comes back in the morning and is able to somehow put a smile on his face and compete as hard as he can. You have to have a lot of respect for that."
Ball defeated Vandalia Butler's Nick Coyle 18-2 in the first round March 8 and pinned Canton McKinley's Micha Clemson in the second round March 9 before falling to eventual champion Jake Thompson of Cincinnati Moeller 3-1.
On March 10, Ball rolled past Cincinnati La Salle's Michael Baker 10-0 to reach the third-place match, where he dominated North Canton Hoover's Ben Smith 16-1.
"Coming back to place third was good," Ball said. "I've done it two times before, so I'm pleased with it. Being a three-time state placer is something you never forget, you learn from. It will definitely help in the future.
"I knew that I had what it takes to do what I'm doing now. (My coaches) helped me find it and bring it."
Ball finished with a career record of 156-17.
"Jared has the most wins in program history," Moody said. "He has the most times placing at the state tournament. He's probably the most achieved wrestler that we've ever had and he's deserved every win he's gotten."
Cover went 3-2 at state at heavyweight to close the season 48-7. He finished with a career record of 134-47.
"I gave it everything I had and I'm not disappointed," he said. "This is my second time here. It's always a great atmosphere, a great experience. Being able to surround myself with people who have been here and who gave me advice along the way helps, too."
Cover defeated Cincinnati Winton Woods' Paul McKnight 4-1 in the first round and pinned Massillon Perry's Max Millin in the second to reach a semifinal, where he lost 3-2 to eventual runner-up Jack Heyob of Cincinnati St. Xavier.
In the consolation semifinal, Cover defeated Marysville' Tyler Connolly 3-2 to reach the third-place match, where he fell 8-2 to Amherst Steele's Matt Lee.
"Both of these guys' goals was to be champions. That's what they had on their lockers all year," assistant coach Matt Burgei said. "For four straight years, Jacob did everything ever asked and whatever happens after that happens, you have to be proud of it. He always left it out there."
Cover went 0-2 at state a year ago at 220.
"Jacob had a heck of a year," Moody said. "He's a very driven kid. To come down here and fall a bit short of his goal hurts him, but he still competed at insanely high levels, so I'm really happy with it."
Ball and Cover, the only seniors on the roster, were the only competitors at state for the Panthers, who totaled 34 points to finish 13th behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (170.5) as 70 teams scored.
Ball and Cover both went 4-0 to win titles in the home district tournament held March 2 and 3, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Four other Panthers competed at district, with juniors Rodney Beneker (182, 32-10) and Isaac Richards (126, 23-12) and sophomore Ryan Blackerby (120, 21-18) all going 1-2 and junior Ben Brown (132, 26-18) going 0-2.
Darby scored 61.5 points at district to finish 10th behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored.
In a 10-team sectional Feb. 24 at Watkins Memorial, Ball, Cover, Beneker and Black-erby all won titles. Brown placed third and Richards was fourth, as the top four finishers in each weight class qualified for district.
Freshman Isaiah Beneker (160, 13-18) was a district alternate after placing fifth. Also competing were junior Carter Holt (145, 2-15), sophomores Alex Ventura (106, 20-11), Caiden Rayburn (15, 8-9) and Zach Vent (138, 9-19) and freshmen Sam Donnelly (220, 5-5), Zach Lithiluxa (113, 11-20) and Bradley Weaver (170, 6-7).
The Panthers scored 131 points at sectional to finish fourth behind champion Olentangy (259.5) and went 4-2 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to tie Dublin Scioto for third, behind co-champions Bradley and Delaware (both 5-1) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (2-4), Worthington Kilbourne (1-5) and Thomas Worthington (0-6).
Ball, Cover, Richards and Rodney Beneker all made first-team all-league, while Blackerby, Brown and Ventura made second team.
"It was a good season for us as a team and we got a lot of younger guys some good experience and I'm excited to see what we can do next year," Moody said.
Boys basketball team enjoyed turnaround
The boys basketball team finished 12-11 overall after going 4-19 last season.
Coach Chris Maul cited the players accepting their roles as the reason for the turnaround.
"I was very pleased with our progress," Maul said. "We thought going into this season that this group could turn the corner for us. We told the boys from the first day of practice that we thought we could be as good as anyone on our schedule. We anticipated many close games and 15 of our 23 games were decided by five points or less, a majority of those by three points or less. We found ways to make winning plays in those close games early."
Darby was 11-6 before losing five of its final six games, including the final four. Three of those losses were by three points and a fourth was by four points.
"We definitely didn't have a (standout player), but it wasn't an issue," Maul said. "This group of seniors has always been an unselfish group dating back to the middle school years. We knew they'd share the ball. We moved the ball very well and played an unselfish brand of basketball. It was fun to coach and fun to watch. They were 100 percent bought in to our system. We tailored it around them and their skill sets."
The Panthers went 7-5 in the OCC-Cardinal to place second, behind Bradley (12-0) and ahead of Jerome and Kilbourne (both 6-6), Delaware (5-7), Scioto (4-8) and Thomas (2-10).
Darby is losing six seniors in forwards Chandler Barlow, Ben Gbur and Brice Stultz and guards Jack Gearhiser, Josh Govine and Colton Wood.
Barlow averaged 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and two assists and was named first-team all-league and Govine averaged a team-high 11.2 points and was second-team all-league. Both were honorable mention all-district.
Gbur averaged 7.8 points and was honorable mention all-league, and Stultz averaged 6.6 points.
"Our senior class won one game as freshmen and had a handful of wins at the j.v. level," Maul said. "They've endured through a lot of losses. But, you'd never know it by the way they practiced, executed and prepared for our opponents. This is one of our staff's favorite classes that have come through. They're a fantastic group of kids and we'll miss them greatly."
Among the players expected to return are junior guards Jaeln Benjamin and Kyle Miller and freshman guard Andrew Patrick.
Benjamin averaged 8.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists and was special mention all-league. Patrick averaged 6.3 points and Miller averaged 4.3 points.
"We will be very young next year, but (will) return three skilled guards," Maul said. "We'll build our offense around those three players. All of them had significant playing time and played during big moments in most games."
@Brad_ThisWeekAt a glance
*Record: 12-11 overall, 7-5 (second) in OCC-Cardinal
*Seniors lost: Chandler Barlow, Ben Gbur, Jack Gearhiser, Josh Govine, Brice Stultz and Colton Wood
*Key returnees: Jaeln Benjamin, Kyle Miller and Andrew Patrick
*Finishes: Tied for third in OCC-Cardinal, fourth in sectional, 10th at district, 13th at state
*Seniors lost: Jared Ball and Jacob Cover
*Key returnees: Isaiah Beneker, Rodney Beneker, Ryan Blackerby, Ben Brown, Isaac Richards and Alex Ventura