The Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball team headed into last Tuesday's action with sole possession of first in the OCC-Capital Division, but the Pioneers know much work remains before they can call themselves league champions.

The Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball team headed into last Tuesday's action with sole possession of first in the OCC-Capital Division, but the Pioneers know much work remains before they can call themselves league champions.

"We have control of our own destiny, but we don't have anything wrapped up by any stretch of the imagination," guard Zack Joseph said. "We need to stay focused, play hard and not take anything for granted. We've been saying all along that we can win the OCC championship. If we keep playing how we're playing and keep winning games, we feel we can do it."

Orange improved to 6-1 in the OCC-Capital with a 50-49 win over Mount Vernon last Friday. The victory, coupled with Delaware's 50-47 win over Franklin Heights that day, moved the Pioneers one game ahead of the Yellow Jackets and Falcons. Entering last Tuesday, Delaware and Franklin Heights were tied for second in the OCC-Capital at 5-2. Big Walnut was fourth at 4-3, followed by Delaware (3-4), New Albany (1-5) and Watkins Memorial (0-7).

The Pioneers, who improved to 10-3 overall with a 60-45 win over St. Charles last Saturday, played Big Walnut last Tuesday.

"It's crazy," coach John Betz said. "Our league is so balanced. We have to keep our guard up and keep playing hard. Delaware helped us out, but we're going to have to play them as well. I think we may have flown under the radar a little bit (in the first round of league play), but we know we'll get everyone's best (in the second round).

"It's a long season. The kids understand that it's a marathon, not a sprint. We've talked about (winning the league) all year. The kids have worked really hard all year and I've told them that hard work wins championships."

Orange, which was fourth in the Division II area coaches poll last week behind DeSales, Canal Winchester and Logan Elm, would not have been in first entering last Tuesday if not for guard Taylor Rieger. With the Pioneers trailing 49-48, Rieger stole an inbound pass and hit a short jumper with 11.2 seconds left to give Orange the lead. Mount Vernon had an opportunity to retake the lead, but point guard Cuy Sheffield's jumper with less than three seconds left was partially blocked by Joseph.

"Taylor was in the right place at the right time," Betz said. "Great players do great things. But that only happened because we had four guys denying the (inbound pass). (Mount Vernon) didn't have a timeout left, so they had to throw the ball in and they threw it right to Taylor and he knocked down an eight-foot shot."

Joseph led the Pioneers with 18 points and Rieger scored 13.

•CROSSTOWN RIVALRY -- Liberty travels to Olentangy on Saturday for an OCC-Cardinal contest. The game, which starts at 4 p.m., marks the second meeting between the teams this season and fifth overall.

Olentangy leads the series 3-1, having defeated Liberty 68-57 on Dec. 20. The Braves led by as many as 15 points in the first half, only to watch the Patriots rally and take a 47-44 lead -- their first -- on a 3-pointer by guard Tyler Yazrombek with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

The Braves regained control by going on a 12-0 run over the next seven minutes to take a 56-47 lead.

Guards Mitchell Girberd and Alex Tracy scored 20 points to lead the Braves, with post player Matt Huter adding 10. Forward Cody Persinger led the Patriots with 13 points, forward Tyler Conard had 11 and post player Matt Napier had 10.

"(Girberd and Tracy) put up a lot of points on us," Patriots guard Tommy Waterwash said. "That will be a big focus for us. We will run what we need to and play hard defensively. Containing those two is a big key for us."

Liberty defeated Olentangy 65-64 in overtime in the second of two meetings last season. The Braves won the first meeting last season 85-55 and won the inaugural matchup 72-55 during the 2006-07 season.

"It's a great rivalry," Braves coach Chris Kelly said. "The best part for me is that the community rallies around it so much. The attendance is unbelievable. It's probably three times what it usually is. It's a great event. It brings excitement to our community."

Olentangy had lost four in a row before playing Marysville last Tuesday, including a 65-64 loss to Dublin Scioto last Friday. The Braves trailed 24-2 after the first quarter and were down 37-10 midway through the second quarter before closing the half on a 14-2 run. They continued their comeback in the third quarter, outscoring the Irish 27-12 to tie the game at 51. The Braves then built a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Irish rallied.

Girberd made a free throw with 4.4 seconds left to put Olentangy ahead 64-62, but Scioto guard Bradley McDougald hit a running 3-pointer as time expired.

"I was as proud as I possibly could be," Kelly said. "When you lose in the fashion that we did, it's extremely painful. But there were so many positives. It was an unbelievable comeback. We believed we could do it. I knew we would not quit. Our motto is: Be relentless. I think we wore them down a little bit. We stayed after it, we kept after them."

Kelly is confident the Braves will rebound from the setback.

"I know the kids still believe in themselves and I believe in the kids," he said.

Scioto, which was second in the Division I area coaches poll last week, had beaten the Braves 73-59 on Dec. 9.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Liberty, Olentangy and Orange boys basketball teams:


*Last Friday -- Defeated Marysville 59-47. Matt Napier scored 13 points and Tommy Waterwash scored 11.

*Last Tuesday -- Played Dublin Jerome

*Saturday -- At Olentangy. The Patriots lost 68-57 on Dec. 20.

*Tuesday -- At Westerville North. The Patriots won 68-59 on Dec. 23.

Of note: The Patriots were 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.


*Last Friday -- Lost to Dublin Scioto 65-64. Alex Tracy scored 19 points and Raphael Carter-Nowling scored 16.

*Last Tuesday -- Played Marysville

*Saturday -- Home vs.. Liberty. The Braves won 68-57 on Dec. 20.

*Tuesday -- At Dublin Jerome. The Braves won 57-55 on Dec. 23.

Of note: The Braves were 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Cardinal game


*Last Friday -- Def. Mount Vernon 50-49. Zack Joseph scored 18 points and Taylor Rieger scored 13.

Last Saturday -- Def. St. Charles 60-45. Joseph scored 20 points and Rieger scored 16.

*Last Tuesday -- Played Big Walnut

*Friday -- Home vs. New Albany. The Pioneers won 55-42 on Dec. 19.

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial. The Pioneers won 71-42 on Dec. 23.

Of note: The Pioneers were 10-3 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Capital game