As it heads into the offseason following its second appearance at the state tournament, the Dublin Jerome High School hockey team might be thinking about what could have been against Cleveland St. Ignatius had it cashed in on an opportunity when the game was hanging in the balance March 9 at Nationwide Arena.

The Celtics trailed the Wildcats by three goals in a state semifinal before junior forward Trent Belli scored with 6 minutes, 18 seconds left in the second period on assists by junior forward J.P. Weaver and senior forward Brian Wheeler.

Then, during a power play a few minutes later, Jerome nearly scored again, as a shot by junior forward Evan Shea hit the post with 3:50 left in the period.

Less than two minutes later, St. Ignatius increased its lead back to three goals and added a pair of third-period goals on its way to a 6-1 victory.

The Wildcats, who outshot the Celtics 35-16, went on to beat Toledo St. Francis 5-4 in two overtimes the next day for their third consecutive state title.

"I felt like the goal got the crowd back into it," Belli said. "They had a super good goalie. It was really unfortunate we couldn't get two right in a row there, but we'll find a way to come back next year and hopefully win it. We've just got to shoot the puck more."

Jerome, which finished 29-7-3, made its only other state tournament appearance in 2015 when it also lost in a semifinal. Central Ohio teams are a combined 0-12 at the state tournament.

"I don't think there's any question for them to score a couple minutes after we get our first goal, it was a back-breaker," coach Pat Murphy said. "It really hurt, especially because we did have a couple chances to get it to 3-2. That's a tough team to score against and a three-goal lead is tough to come back from against any team."

Jerome went 15-1 (30 points) to finish first in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division, ahead of Olentangy Liberty (27, 13-2-1), St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1), Upper Arlington (20, 9-5-0-2) and New Albany (12, 6-10).

The Celtics were the top seed for the Blue Jackets Cup tournament and beat eighth-seeded Watterson 7-1 on Feb. 8, fifth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller 4-2 on Feb. 9 and second-seeded Liberty 3-1 on Feb. 11 to win its second consecutive title and eighth overall.

Then in the district tournament, the top-seeded Celtics beat 21st-seeded Scioto 10-0 on Feb. 17, seventh-seeded Springboro 4-3 in four overtimes in a quarterfinal Feb. 24, fifth-seeded UA 8-0 in a semifinal Feb. 25 and second-seeded Liberty 4-1 in the final March 3 to advance to state.

Jerome is losing 10 seniors, led by Wheeler, goaltender Harrison Graff, defenseman Nathan Kolenda and forwards Carter Patchett and Chris Posacki.

Graff went 24-4-3-1 with eight shutouts, a 1.55 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage, and Patchett had 28 goals and 17 assists. Both were named first-team all-CHC and all-CHC-Red and second-team all-state.

Belli, who had 23 goals and 30 assists and was honorable mention all-state, and junior defenseman Ryan Jenkins, who was first-team all-CHC-Red and second-team all-CHC and all-state, should be among the top returnees.

"It makes us more hungry," Jenkins said. "Regardless of the (result) this year, we just have to shake it off and have a good offseason and come back next year. We definitely have a lot of guys that know what it's like to play in that type of game now."

Other key returnees should include Shea, Weaver and junior forwards Nick Augenstein and Dalton Miller.

Weaver had 23 goals and 17 assists, Augenstein had 21 goals and 25 assists, Miller had 16 goals and 19 assists and Shea had 16 goals and nine assists.

Others eligible to return include juniors Vincent Comfort (defenseman), Ethan French (forward) and Jack Moses (defenseman) and sophomores Adam Booth (forward) and Avery Mlicki (forward).

Sophomore Ryan Norkin was the backup goaltender.

"We're obviously disappointed, but we had a great season," said Murphy, who was named state Coach of the Year. "It was the best season in our school history, so I said to these guys there's no reason to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. Hopefully, we'll learn from our mistakes and get back here next year.

"We've got a lot of holes to fill for next year, but that's the way it goes in high school hockey. Every year you've got to replace the graduates and we've got some good underclassmen coming from the (junior varsity) team."

Boys basketball team excited for future

The boys basketball team showed flashes of what it hopes to accomplish in the future when it won 48-42 over Pickerington North, the district's No. 1 seed, on Feb. 13.

Of the 13 players who saw action, all but three are eligible to return from a squad that finished 13-10 overall.

"We had a very good year this season," first-year coach Richie Beard said. "There were some ups and downs along the way, but we got a lot of players varsity experience that did not have any from the previous years. The Pickerington North win was huge for the program as we continue to progress forward and be a school that is known as a 'basketball school.'"

Jerome went 6-6 in the OCC-Cardinal to tie Worthington Kilbourne for third, behind Hilliard Bradley (12-0) and Hilliard Darby (7-5) and ahead of Delaware (5-7), Scioto (4-8) and Thomas Worthington (2-10).

The Celtics were seeded 25th for the 48-team district tournament and lost to sixth-seeded Coffman 58-40 in the second round March 2 after having a first-round bye.

Jerome is losing three seniors in post player Andrew Golda, guard Lucas House and forward Preston Streator.

House averaged 10 points and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Golda averaged nine points and 6.4 rebounds and Streator averaged five points.

Junior wing player Trey Ballengee, who averaged 11.4 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and junior guard Joseph Gatien, who averaged 5.5 points, 4.1 steals and 4.3 assists and was honorable mention all-league, should be the top returnees.

Others eligible to return include juniors Cam Craig (forward), Jack Kemp (forward), Cam Kerns (forward), Ryan Keys (guard), Luke Martin (guard), Matthew Montgomery (forward), Joey Pickering (wing player) and Luke Schlessel (guard).

Martin, Montgomery and Pickering all averaged four points.

"Lucas and Andrew both had some big games down the stretch for us," Beard said. "They both came a long way from when they were freshmen in the program. The seniors continued to push the program forward.

"We'll be deep again next season and we'll be able to rotate a lot of guards. The junior class has won a ton of games together and is a very close group. I'm extremely excited for this group to be seniors, as I think it can be a very special group headed into next season with big expectations."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

At a glance

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Record: 13-10 overall, 6-6 (tied for third) in OCC-Cardinal

*Seniors lost: Andrew Golda, Lucas House and Preston Streator

*Key returnees: Trey Ballengee, Joseph Gatien, Luke Martin, Matthew Montgomery and Joey Pickering

HOCKEY

*Record: 29-7-3 overall, 15-1 (first) in CHC-Red

*Seniors lost: Adam Berven, Harrison Graff, Joel Izenson, Brendan King, Nathan Kolenda, Carter Patchett, Chris Posacki, Kellen Posacki, Steven Tejeda and Brian Wheeler

*Key returnees: Nick Augenstein, Trent Belli, Adam Booth, Ethan French, Dalton Miller, Evan Shea and J.P. Weaver