Members of the Hartley High School boys basketball team talked throughout last summer about what they call "raising the standard."

Members of the Hartley High School boys basketball team talked throughout last summer about what they call "raising the standard."

With a trio of key returning seniors and a strong group of underclassmen, the Hawks believed they could have a special season this winter.

They were right.

After beating Watterson 44-38 on March 10 to win its first district championship since 2003, Hartley won a pair of games at the regional tournament to send the program to its fourth state tournament appearance.

On March 24 at Ohio State, the Hawks rallied from a 13-point deficit to take the lead early in the fourth quarter but eventually fell to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 49-44 in a Division II state semifinal to finish 22-2.

"It was just about the mentality of what we were trying to do this year," coach Randy Kortokrax said. "The seniors did a good job of setting goals this year. The kids worked well together. We talked back in the summer that this could be a special year if they were willing to put in the time. We stepped up our workouts and we went longer than we normally went. We've really just grown as a team."

The Hawks nearly completed a big comeback against St. Vincent-St. Mary to extend their season further.

Hartley didn't score its first basket against the Irish until there was 4 minutes, 3 seconds to go in the opening quarter to make it 8-2. St. Vincent-St. Mary led 12-4 at the end of the period and increased its lead to 22-13 before junior guard Eric Seifert made a 3-pointer to cut the Hawks' deficit to 22-16 at halftime.

St. Vincent-St. Mary began the second half on a 7-0 run to increase its advantage to 29-16 and led 34-21 with 3:52 remaining to go in the third period. Hartley's defense tightened, however, and the Irish failed to score another basket until there was 4:28 remaining.

During St. Vincent-St. Mary's offensive drought, Hartley rallied to within 36-33 by the end of the third quarter and took its first lead at 37-36 with 6:47 remaining.

The Hawks led 42-40 with 2:01 left, but St. Vincent-St. Mary's Richard Johnson Jr. connected on a 3-pointer and the Irish never trailed again. During the final 31.8 seconds, Davonte Beard made four free throws and Lorenzo Cugini made two for St. Vincent-St. Mary, which went 15 of 16 from the foul line.

"The game is 32 minutes, and you've got to play 32 minutes," St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce said. "They're a great team and you knew they'd make a run. I was really proud that we made our free throws at the end.

"I just want to take my hat off to Hartley and their team. I'm sure their coach is telling them that one game doesn't dictate how good of a season they did have."

Siefert had 13 points and six rebounds, sophomore Jacob Matuska had 11 points and eight rebounds and senior Kendal Sherrod added six points and seven rebounds as the Hawks outrebounded the Irish 28-19.

It was the final prep game for Sherrod and fellow starters DeAvery Collins and Kendall Johnson.

Hartley won the CCL at 7-1, ahead of DeSales (6-2), Watterson (4-4), St. Charles (3-5) and Ready (0-8).

The Hawks snapped DeSales' 50-game home winning streak Jan. 7 with a 51-40 victory. The Stallions won the rematch 50-49 on Feb. 4 for Hartley's only regular-season loss.

Hartley earned the top seed for the district tournament and defeated Columbus South 62-22 on Feb. 25 and Hamilton Township 66-55 on March 3 before beating Watterson to win a district title.

The Hawks then beat Zanes-ville 48-44 on March 17 and New Concord John Glenn 46-43 on March 19 at regional to reach state for the first time since 1995.

Matuska and Seifert both were named second-team all-district and Sherrod made third team. Siefert averaged a team-best 12.5 points, followed by Sherrod (11.1), Matuska (10.3), Collins (7.8) and Johnson (4.1). Matuska led in rebounding, averaging 5.7. Siefert averaged 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

Junior Joe Brown was lost to a season-ending injury in February after averaging 4.7 points. Also eligible to return after playing in the state semifinal are juniors Brent Wahle and Jordan Fair. Sophomore Trevonn Brown played in 13 games.

"We haven't been in that big of a game before, but once we got used to it, it was just us versus them," Siefert said. "Like coach said, they hit a big shot."

"We had a bunch of guys that all scored seven to 10 points a game, and that's how we won all of these games in the tournament," Kortokrax said. "We just found out what guy was scoring on a given night and tried to get the ball to him. They all decided to (score) a little bit less, share the ball and 'let's have a great year.'"