During Ty Brenning's seven seasons as coach, the Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team has won three Division I district titles and went on to compete in a regional final each time.
Not talking much about what a regional championship might mean to the program before it actually occurred May 25 at Dublin Coffman was a form of protocol for the Patriots.
"This is the 15th year we've been open, and we've been knocking on the door of the (state tournament) quite a few times," Brenning said. "Our guys are good at being in the moment. One of the things we don't say very often because we try to stay focused on the process is not talking about (playing at) Huntington (Park) ... but we kept knocking. We put in the work and the door opened eventually. It wasn't a matter of if; it was a matter of when."
There might not be a clear favorite heading into the state tournament.
While Liberty has the best record at 28-4, the Patriots are one of three teams that will be at state for the first time along with Whitehouse Anthony Wayne and Medina Highland.
The fourth team is Mason, which made its only state appearance in 1987.
The Patriots play Highland at 10 a.m. Friday, June 1, at Huntington Park, with Anthony Wayne and Mason to follow at 1 p.m.
The championship game is 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at the same site.
"This was a long time in the making," junior pitcher Jack Metzger said. "We do so much in the offseason to prepare just for this. This is where it paid off.
"We never want to be complacent. ... We have more to come. We've been looking forward to Huntington all season."
In a regional semifinal May 24 at Coffman, Liberty beat Lancaster 3-2 on Mitchell Okuley's home run in the bottom of the seventh.
Then in an 8-1 win over New Albany in the final, Carson Comer, Corbin Parrish and Brennan Rowe all had two hits in support of Metzger, who pitched a complete game, striking out five and giving up just four hits and one unearned run.
Mitch Milheim, who went all seven innings in the regional semifinal, is among the options to start the state semifinal.
"I feel really good about our chances if it's a three-game series or a nine-inning game because our pitching depth would pay off in those scenarios," Brenning said. "The bottom line is guys are competing on the mound and giving us a chance."
Distance duo lead way in girls track
At the Division I girls state cross country meet last fall, junior Gracie Sprankle led central Ohio with a fourth-place finish and senior Emma Bower placed ninth.
That duo is heading back to a state event, this time in track and field, where they'll compete in the 3,200 meters Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State.
In the Division I regional that concluded May 25 at Pickerington North, Sprankle won the 3,200 (10 minutes, 43.6 seconds) and Bower finished third (10:47.17).
The Patriots finished 11th (27) behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Also advancing to state was the 800 relay of senior Sydney Englehart, juniors Carrie Lawal and Brea White and freshman Nicole Tonetti. The four placed fourth in a program-record 1:41.52.
The state preliminaries are Friday, June 1.
"It's really exciting because I've been to the regional (in an event) all four years but haven't made it (to state) before," Englehart said. "I knew we could do it."
Englehart also was seventh in the 100 (12.6) and 10th in the 400 (1:00.04).
Also placing were Tonetti in the long jump (seventh, 16 feet, 8 1/4 inches) and the 400 relay of Lawal, White, senior Lauren Walsh and junior Sienna Sakich (seventh, 49.87).
Lawal also was ninth in the 200 (25.77) and 10th in the 100 (12.55).
Also competing were senior Jenna Culver in the high jump (10th, 5-0) and junior Mollie Kunar in the shot put (11th, 34-5 3/4).
Bendick brothers heading to state
Senior Andrew Bendick and his junior brother, Luke Bendick, will represent the boys track team in the Division I state meet.
Luke Bendick captured the regional championship in the pole vault May 23 when he cleared a personal-best 15-4.
Then on May 25, Andrew Bendick finished fifth in the 200 (22.11) but earned an at-large berth to state.
The Patriots finished ninth (24) behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored.
"I got some new poles and I jumped with one of them," Luke Bendick said. "(Competing with) a bigger pole has definitely helped. I'm very excited. I'd like to place pretty high (at state) and would definitely like to get into the top three."
Also for the Patriots, senior Jacob Hunter was fifth in the pole vault (14-0) and senior Jared Whitfield was seventh in the high jump (6-2).
Andrew Bendick also was seventh in the 100 (11.15) and ran on the seventh-place 400 relay (43.44) with juniors Gavin Smith and Ubby Suligavi and sophomore Aidan McClure.
Also competing were junior Joseph Johnson in the 800 (12th, 1:59.01), senior Ryan Miller in the 110 hurdles (12th, 15.62) and the 3,200 relay of Johnson, senior Will Koberna and juniors Adam Clark and Drew Folwarczny (10th, 8:01.87).
Boys lacrosse team falls to Shamrocks
A 6-0 halftime deficit proved to be too much for the boys lacrosse team to overcome as it lost 9-5 to top-seeded Coffman in the Division I, Region 1 final May 25 at Otterbein.
"They're a good team and we were lucky to only be (down) 6-0 quite honestly," coach Jason Godwin said. "It was a lack of executing what we do like passing and catching. There was no tweaking of anything other than just pick up a ball, slide and catch and fight harder."
Liberty, which made its fourth consecutive regional final, finished 14-7.
The second-seeded Patriots beat third-seeded Olentangy 13-10 in a regional semifinal May 22 as Spencer Towne had four goals and John Paolo and Alex Theuerkauf each scored three.
In the regional final, Johnny Wiseman and Aidan Kenley both scored two goals and Paolo added one.
loses regional final
Despite competing for a key stretch of the regular season without one of its top players, the boys volleyball team won four more matches and made it a round further in the postseason than a season ago.
The seventh-seeded Patriots beat 12th-seeded Coffman 25-14, 25-22, 25-27, 25-22 on May 19 in the second round of the Division I East Region tournament and sixth-seeded Gahanna 25-20, 25-21, 25-22 on May 22 in a regional semifinal.
They then fell to top-seeded Olentangy 22-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-8 on May 25 in a regional final at Westerville Central to finish 14-7 overall.
"It feels pretty good especially because coming into (the Gahanna) match we were the lower seed," said libero Shiva Dubbaka, who was one of four seniors in the program. "(Olentangy) just (has) a lot of seniors and a lot of us are super young. They have a lot more experience than we do."
Despite missing time with a back injury during the regular season, Dubbaka was honorable mention all-OCC-Buckeye Division for the Patriots, who went 8-2 in the league to finish behind Olentangy (10-0) and ahead of Westerville North (6-4), Westerville Central (4-6), Orange (2-8) and Westerville South (0-10).
Sophomore Nick Irelan (outside hitter) was first-team all-league, sophomore Sean McCabe (setter) and junior Llwyatt Hofer (middle hitter) were second team and junior Rithvik Potluri (outside hitter) was special mention.
Irelan was second-team all-region and McCabe was honorable mention all-region.
Others eligible to return include sophomores Jacob Myers (defensive specialist), Tyus Thompson (right-side hitter/middle hitter) and Timothy Gies (right-side hitter).
"I've been to state a couple times as a coach and (making it to a regional final) is awesome," coach Dave Hale said.
Girls lacrosse team's
run ends in title game
The girls lacrosse team put itself in position to avenge one of its two regular-season losses but ran out of answers in the second half of a 10-8 loss to top-seeded New Albany in the Division I, Region 1 final May 25 at Thomas Worthington.
The second-seeded Patriots, who beat 12th-seeded Westerville Central (20-3 on May 14), fifth-seeded Orange (13-5 on May 18) and third-seeded Olentangy (14-11 on May 21) to move into the regional final, led the Eagles 5-3 at halftime.
Liberty finished 16-3 overall, including losing to New Albany 15-9 on April 5. The Patriots' only other loss was to Region 3 champion Upper Arlington (19-7 on April 7), as they took a 14-game winning streak into the regional final.
"New Albany is just used to being in this kind of position and this kind of pressure," coach Nicole Stines said. "It's us being a more inexperienced program and making it this far and getting over that mental edge. Our girls played fantastic, and going on a 14-game winning streak is pretty hard to beat. It shows we're willing to be up there and compete with these teams that are heading to the final four."
The Patriots went 6-1 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish behind New Albany (7-0) and ahead of Olentangy (5-2), Orange (4-3), North (3-4), Central (2-5), Big Walnut (1-6) and South (0-7).
Liberty loses a 10-member senior class that was led by first-team all-league honorees Grace Buckey (attacker), Emma Kern (defender), Mollie McCormack (midfielder) and Madison Rapier (midfielder).
Other key seniors included Addy French (defender), Maddie Harrington (goalie) and Anna Maitano (attacker).
Junior Molly Bursingter (attacker) was first-team all-league and junior Kara Bradley (defender) made honorable mention.
Others eligible to return include juniors Addie Druckenbroad (defender) and Jenna Lickovitch (defender) and sophomores Emma Shear (midfielder) and Julia Swaro (midfielder).
"Our senior class was huge," Stines said. "We just had a lot of great leaders, and these seniors I've coached since they were sophomores. They've helped change this program into what I've seen for it and envisioned. Being a regional runner-up, it's a pretty special group. (The returnees) genuinely want to be like the older girls."