The Wellington School boys basketball team didn't have much trouble making it through the first two rounds of the Division III district tournament, but it anticipated bigger challenges going forward.
In addition to facing tougher competition, the Jaguars are without one of their starters in senior forward Noah Berry, who is sitting out the entire postseason for an unspecified reason.
With freshman Marcus Stewart among those seeing increased action in Berry's absence, fourth-seeded Wellington opened the postseason with a 61-46 victory over 21st-seeded Heath on Feb. 26 and rolled past 19th-seeded Fredericktown 74-37 in the second round March 3.
"We feel really good," coach Artie Taylor said. "The guys continue to jell and have figured out a way to be tighter. During the tournament, they're all big, but we've got so many seniors and it's their last go-round. We're just trying to celebrate each victory and enjoy it while trying to make it last longer."
Wellington was 19-4 before playing ninth-seeded Johnstown in a district semifinal March 6, with the winner facing second-seeded Africentric or fifth-seeded Galion Northmor in a district final at 6 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Ohio Dominican.
The Jaguars beat Africentric 52-50 in a Division IV district final last season.
The district champion will play Oak Harbor, Carey, Huron or Castalia Margaretta in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 14, at Bowling Green. The regional final is March 17 at Bowling Green.
Against Fredericktown, Solomon Pierre-Louis scored nine points during the third quarter when the Jaguars outscored the Freddies 22-3.
Pierre-Louis finished with 25 points, while Dallas Patrick scored 18 and Bob Faller added 12.
"Our team is coming together and making plays here and there, sticking to the game plan," Pierre-Louis said. "In the third quarter (against Fredericktown), we started getting some steals and our defense helped us get the win."
Taylor was most pleased with his team's defensive pressure against Fredericktown.
"We started off pretty much in a man-to-man and created offense from there," he said. "It was a 10-point game at halftime and they shot the ball really well in the first half. We held them to three points in the third quarter."
Girls basketball team finishes strong season
Even with its leading scorer battling through an injury, the girls basketball team gave top-seeded Fairfield Christian a more competitive game in a Division IV district semifinal Feb. 28 at Olentangy Orange than it did during a pair of regular-season losses.
The Jaguars lost 50-36 to finish 15-10 overall while the Knights improved to 22-3 and advanced to the district final.
Savannah Childress, a junior guard who was named first-team all-district and all-MSL-Cardinal Division, was held to two points as junior Addie Shock (guard/forward) had 14 points and senior Jacquie Sierzputowski (guard/forward) scored 12.
Wellington lost to Fairfield Christian 51-22 on Jan. 9 and 56-30 on Feb. 10.
"Savannah wasn't at her best (in the tournament loss)," coach Danielle Fleming said. "She didn't practice (Feb. 27) because of a pulled muscle in her neck. We were within eight or nine points so it was fairly close. We were a couple baskets away but just couldn't get it."
The sixth-seeded Jaguars opened the district tournament with a 55-29 win over ninth-seeded Delaware Christian in a second-round game Feb. 21 and beat host and fifth-seeded Granville Christian 37-30 in the third round Feb. 24 before falling to Fairfield Christian.
In its first season competing in the MSL-Cardinal, Wellington went 9-5 to tie Zanesville Rosecrans for third, behind Fairfield Christian (14-0) and Berne Union (12-2) and ahead of Fisher Catholic (6-8), Grove City Christian (3-11), Harvest Prep (2-12) and Millersport (1-13).
Childress, who had 27 points against Delaware Christian, averaged 16 points, while Sierzputowski averaged nine points and made third-team all-district and second-team all-league.
Guards Zoe Beatty and Jakaysha Williams and forward Annie Taylor were other key seniors. Williams was honorable mention all-league.
Others eligible to return include sophomore guards Eli Burkhardt and Ellie Weinberg and freshmen Sydney Belford (guard) and Christine Cook (guard/forward).
"This year we played a tougher schedule," said Fleming, who coached Licking Heights the past two seasons.
"It was our first year in the league and we came in third. One thing the parents said is that their kids all got better. We'll have Savannah and Addie coming back, and we have a good eighth-grader coming in."
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Finishes: 15-10 overall, 9-5 (tied for third) in MSL-Cardinal
*Seniors lost: Zoe Beatty, Jacquie Sierzputowski, Annie Taylor and Jakaysha Williams
*Key returnees: Eli Burkhardt, Savannah Childress and Addie Shock