Perhaps by definition, the Pickerington High School North boys basketball team's 13-game winning streak that began Dec. 15 and continued into February suggests a consistently high level of play.
Coach Jason Bates says that is the case, even beyond what shows up in a scorebook.
Working with what he called the deepest team not only in his four seasons at North but in his entire 10-year head coaching career, the Panthers were 16-2 overall before playing Canal Winchester on Feb. 6, have clinched at least a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship and are ranked fifth in this week's Division I state poll.
"They get after each other. They really do, and we've always wanted that culture of competition," Bates said. "When you have 10 legitimate guys that can really play and are all champing at the bit to get those extra minutes, that makes practice very fun for me as a coach. Bringing those guys in keeps the competition high and everybody is sharp."
Only one of the five starting spots has been up for grabs this year. Indiana recruit Jerome Hunter, Miami University signee Eli McNamara and Findlay recruit Dondre Palmer have played forward -- and, in the 6-foot-9 McNamara's case, center when 6-10 Ross Ryan was sidelined by a right knee injury -- while Ty Wiley has started at point guard.
The fifth starter most of the season was freshman forward Jack Sawyer, but Corey Baker recently assumed that spot after becoming eligible. Baker, a transfer from Groveport, had to sit out the first 11 games per Ohio High School Athletic Association rules.
Tyler Potts and Sawyer are now the Panthers' sixth and seventh men, with Bates still having to find time for a group that includes Ryan and guards Chris Scott and Hunter Shedenhelm.
"It's a team full of starters," said Potts, who has started six games but emphasized that his role off the bench is to play defense and change the tempo of the game when needed. "Coach preaches every day how we should have a 'next man up' attitude and be ready to play at any point. That's what's expected in this program. We are held accountable every day. You have to be ready to produce."
Sawyer, who was averaging 11.3 points before Feb. 6, received his second Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offer Jan. 29 from Michigan, said he fills a similar role to Potts in that he emphasizes defense and is expected to be a physical presence inside who rebounds and scores. He downplayed any adjustment between starting and coming off the bench.
"It's been working well for me and the team," said Sawyer, whose earlier football offer was from Cincinnati. "I just have to do my role when I come off the bench, which is still play good defense, get some rebounds and score points."
Hunter was averaging a team-high 20.9 points through 18 games, ahead of Sawyer, Wiley (10.1) and McNamara (8.3).
North improved to 8-0 in the OCC-Ohio and clinched at least a share of the league title Feb. 3 with a 56-49 win over Grove City. The Panthers are two games ahead of second-place Pickerington Central (6-2), from which North swept the season series.
The Panthers would clinch the outright championship Friday, Feb. 9, with a win over visiting Reynoldsburg or a loss by Central to Grove City.
"We're rolling right now," Palmer said. "We can go all out as hard as we can, then have another group come in that is just as good as us. That's the best part about having such a stacked roster. That's been so big for us."
Boys bowlers hoping for second title
Already having secured the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division championship, the boys bowling team needed help to earn at least a share of the OCC-Central title.
North is 11-1 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Central entering its regular-season finale Thursday, Feb. 8, against Marysville at Rule 3. The Panthers went 11-0 in the COHSBC-B, ahead of second-place Worthington Kilbourne (9-2).
North was second in the OCC-Central behind Gahanna (5-0) before the Lions' match against Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 7.
Gahanna handed the Panthers their only loss, 2,153-1,891 on Jan. 24 at Gahanna Lanes.
William Hrivnak has a team-high 208.4 game average, followed by Mason Gibson (189.1) and Steven Vance (183.4).
The girls team is 6-5 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Central and finished 6-4 in the COHSBC-B.
Alex Oppenheimer has a team-high 161.1 average, followed by Alayah Robinson (137.8) and Alana Robinson (137.3).
Butcher, Liptrap to enter hall of fame
North's first head basketball coaches will enter the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame together.
Girls coach Dave Butcher and former boys coach Pete Liptrap will be inducted April 21, Pickerington Local School District announced Jan. 31.
Butcher is the state's second all-time winningest girls coach, taking a career record of 747-143 into the Panthers' game against Canal Winchester on Feb. 6.
He led Pickerington, now Central, to six state championships between 1985 and 1999 and coached the Tigers from 1983-2003 before coming to North when the school district split, as did Liptrap.
Butcher coached the Panthers to state tournament appearances in 2007 and 2011 and led his teams to 23 consecutive district championships from 1989-2011.
Liptrap finished with a 406-203 record, coaching 20 years at Pickerington and 10 seasons at North. He retired from the Panthers in June 2013 but has been an assistant coach at Bexley the past four seasons.
Liptrap's teams won district championships in 1991 and 2002, and he led North to a Division I district semifinal four times.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 9 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 48-42 on Jan. 5.
Feb. 13 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*Feb. 9 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Panthers lost to the Raiders 54-35 on Jan. 5.
Feb. 17 -- Home vs. 24th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in first round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded 22nd.
*Feb. 8 -- Marysville at Rule 3
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 10 -- Division I sectional at Upper Arlington. Winner of each swimming event automatically qualifies for district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University. In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites. There is no diving at sectional.
*Feb. 8 -- At Pickerington Central