According to Pickerington High School North boys basketball coach Pete Liptrap, his team is winning "winnable" games.

According to Pickerington High School North boys basketball coach Pete Liptrap, his team is winning "winnable" games.

It initially may sound odd, but it is a trait that has the Panthers in position to make a second-half run at the OCC-Ohio Division title.

"In every game we won, they've all been winnable games," Liptrap said. "The question is, can you win winnable games where you have the opportunity? When we've been in position to win a game, we've indeed won them. Of course, you want to win them all, but you get to the point where if you're winning those winnable games, it shows your team can find a way to win games."

Entering last Tuesday, North's three losses were by an average of 22.3 points. However, the Panthers were 5-0 in games decided by nine points or fewer, whereas last year they were 2-5 in games decided by five points or fewer.

As a result, North was second in the OCC-Ohio before last Tuesday at 6-2, behind Gahanna at 7-0 and ahead of Reynoldsburg at 5-3, Newark, Grove City and Pickerington Central at 4-4, Lancaster at 1-7 and Groveport at 0-8.

"The first half of the season, you're trying to put yourself in position to have a good run in the second half," Liptrap said. "We've done that. Now we just have to see if we can continue to improve and finish strong."

North's current stretch of games will determine just how strong the Panthers will finish. After playing Central last Tuesday, North plays host to Reynoldsburg on Friday and Gahanna on Tuesday.

The Panthers defeated Reynoldsburg 62-56 on Dec. 18. Trent Waybright led North with 16 points, including three 3-pointers. Tyler Kelly had 14 points, with Michael Klamo and Justin Zielinski scoring 13 and 12, respectively.

Kevin Gray had 24 points to lead the Raiders.

Reynoldsburg dropped out of a second-place tie with North and fell to 8-5 overall after losing to Grove City 82-72 last Friday. The Raiders were stressing defense entering that game but could not contain the Greyhounds' offense.

On Jan. 15, North beat Grove City 66-50.

"We played one of our more complete games against Grove City," Liptrap said. "We got after it defensively and we were consistent throughout the whole game."

As for Reynoldsburg, the defense stressed entering last Friday's game did not work out as planned. Still, the Raiders have picked up three of their five conference victories on the road, including over Central 67-52 on Jan. 15.

"On the road, and I've been doing this a long time, people come into Pickerington Central and don't do that," Reynoldsburg coach Chris Rider said. "I think our defensive pressure got us off to that start. I think our guys know how close to Gahanna we were last week, and we came in and had a good week of practice."

North lost to Gahanna 78-51 on Dec. 22. Zielinski led the Panthers with 16 points and Kelly scored 11. Rob Brandenberg led the Lions with 23 points.

Gahanna improved to 13-0 overall and 8-0 in the conference with a 79-63 win over Newark last Friday. A 28-5 advantage in the first quarter led the Lions to the victory. In each of Gahanna's first 13 games, there has been at least one quarter in which the Lions have had a big run.

"We have the personnel and the depth to go on some pretty good runs," coach Tony Staib said. "It's something we've done all year."

North will be without Zielinski in its rematches with Reynoldsburg and Gahanna. Last Friday's 59-37 win over Groveport marked the seventh game the Panthers played without the 6-foot-6 junior forward, who broke his wrist in practice on New Year's Day.

"Kyle Sorensen has brought some great things to our team," Liptrap said. "He may be the best post defender we have and he really competes and plays at a winning level. Evan Mills has also stepped up to be first off the bench.

"That's what sports are about. You get injuries and adversity and you have to hang in there. We have."