Braden Norris was uncharacteristically selfish as he wandered around the court March 10 at Ohio Dominican.
Sporting a grin from ear to ear, the senior for the Hilliard Bradley High School boys basketball team was clutching the program's first district championship trophy.
The third-seeded Jaguars earned the award by defeating eighth-seeded Westerville South 59-46 in a Division I district final. Unlike his ball-distribution role as point guard, Norris wasn't about to share the newly presented team trophy.
"I'm not letting go of this thing. It's staying with me," Norris said with a gleam in his eyes. "They'll have to get another one (for the school's trophy case)."
Senior forward Isaiah Speelman, who led the Jaguars with 16 points, was taken aback by the experience.
"I'm so happy that I'm about to cry," Speelman said. "We have been dreaming about this for four years now, but we're not done. This is just the first step."
A year ago, Bradley lost to Upper Arlington 61-48 in a district final on the same court.
"We had a bad taste in our mouths when we left the gym here last year and we didn't want that again," Norris said. "We all believe that we can (win) the whole thing, and we just don't want this season to end."
During the net-cutting ceremony following the win over South, Speelman proudly displayed his portion of the net behind his right ear. He plans to add more to his collection.
"I'm tying this (piece of the net) on my backpack," he said. "This is my second (after one for an OCC-Cardinal Division title) and I want four of them. Hopefully, there will be two more, one for regional and one for state."
Bradley finally broke through to regional in its ninth season. Ranked 10th in the final state poll, the Jaguars improved to 24-1 with the win over South and advanced to play Reynoldsburg in a regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio Dominican. The 12th-seeded Raiders defeated 15th-seeded Mount Vernon 51-36 in their district final to improve to 19-7.
The semifinal winner faces Dublin Coffman or Pickerington Central in a regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Ohio Dominican, with the regional champion advancing to a state semifinal March 23 at Ohio State.
Bradley defeated Central 54-33 in the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Jan. 27 at Ohio Dominican, but has yet to play Coffman this season. The Shamrocks and Tigers are 20-6 and 16-8, respectively, entering their regional semifinal Thursday, March 15.
Against South, Speelman hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession to fuel the early pace by Bradley, which jumped out to a 12-3 lead and made 10 of their first 14 shots. The Jaguars finished 51.2 percent (21 of 41) from the field.
"We started off really good early," coach Brett Norris said. "(The Wildcats) made it a little choppy for us with their pressure, but our guys wanted this one so bad."
Trailing 35-21 at halftime, South turned up the pressure in the second half but only trimmed its deficit to nine points at 50-41 after a steal and layup from Jordan McMillian with 3 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"(The Jaguars) were well-prepared and they executed well and did things the right way," said South coach Ed Calo, whose team finished 15-9. "I was proud of the way our kids fought and they never gave up at any point."
Chris Mayfield added 11 points for Bradley, and both Matt Allocco and Zach Hummel scored nine.
The Jaguars reached the district final by defeating 17th-seeded Chillicothe 45-30 in a semifinal March 7 at Central Crossing behind 14 points from Norris and nine points from both Allocco and Speelman.
Sawchuk competes at state wrestling
Even though Deacon Sawchuk went 0-2 at 106 pounds in the Division I state wrestling tournament held March 8-10 at Ohio State, coach John Riggs said the freshman gained invaluable experience.
"There's no substitute for the experience handling the lights and the 10,000 fans and it can only help you progress as a wrestler," Riggs said. "Deacon has had a great season and competed well. He came out and had a couple tough matches, but they are all tough (at state).
"I'm proud of the way he competed. He was a district runner-up and had a really strong freshman season."
Sawchuk was the lone state competitor for Bradley. He opened with an 8-4 loss to Austintown-Fitch's Colin Roberts before losing 7-2 to Cincinnati Elder's William Doepker to finish the season 37-7.
Sawchuk was runner-up in the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Darby, losing to Lancaster's Logan Agin 20-5 in the final. Agin went on to place third at state.
Bradley had six other district qualifiers in seniors Kellan Grainger (160, 25-17), Issa Khalil (220, 27-13), J.T. Lemmermen (152, 26-16) and Kade Wareham (145, 23-16), junior Zander Ellison (126, 36-11) and sophomore Kyle DeMoss (182, 7-11).
The Jaguars finished 19th (35) at district behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored.
Bradley won its first league title since 2012 by tying Delaware at 5-1 for the OCC-Cardinal championship. Darby and Dublin Scioto tied for third (4-2), followed by Dublin Jerome (2-4), Worthington Kilbourne (1-5) and Thomas Worthington (0-6).
The Jaguars are losing five seniors.
"We have a number of two- and three-year starters in this (senior) group and they have been a great group of leaders for us," Riggs said. "For the ups and downs that we had this season, it was great to be able to capture a league title."
Girls team battled injuries, consistency
The girls basketball team was hindered by injuries and inconsistent play this season.
Seeded 24th, Bradley defeated 22nd-seeded and host Pickerington North 42-33 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 17 before losing at 14th-seeded Big Walnut 57-37 in the second round Feb. 23 to finish 11-13 overall.
The Jaguars went 7-5 in the OCC-Cardinal to tie Jerome for third behind co-champions Scioto and Thomas (both 9-3). Darby (5-7), Kilbourne (4-8) and Delaware (1-11) rounded out the standings.
Bradley split its final two regular-season games against Jerome and Scioto, losing to the Celtics 41-33 on Feb. 6 before knocking off co-champion Scioto 51-40 on Feb. 9.
"Those two (final regular-season) games were a microcosm of the season," coach Kathy Lindsey said. "We lost at home on senior night and we played tight against Jerome, and then played well at Scioto, which was league champions.
"We had a good second half at Pickerington (North). Then we had a great week of practice but didn't play well against a good Big Walnut team."
The Jaguars had several injuries, including to senior guard Teneea Heston (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) and senior post player Abbey White (second-team all-league). White led the team in scoring (9.8 points per game) and rebounding (6.8), and Heston, a four-year starter, averaged 9.5 points and 2.1 assists.
"We were inconsistent," Lindsey said. "We were up and down and we had some injuries early with Teneea out early and Abbey White was out a couple games.
"We would have two or three games in a row when we were playing well and then we would shoot 20 percent. We never figured it out."
Guards Kamerin Hillis (special mention all-league) and Savannah McCoppin (special mention all-league) rounded out the senior class.
Junior guard Jaiden Bryant, junior forward Jill Klepzig and freshman guards Carly Callahan (7.6 ppg) and Chloe Callahan are the top performers expected to return.
@ThisWeekHennenAt a glance
*Record: 11-13 overall, 7-5 (tied for third) in OCC-Cardinal
*Seniors lost: Teneea Heston, Kamerin Hillis, Savannah McCoppin and Abbey White
*Key returnees: Jaiden Bryant, Carly Callahan, Chloe Callahan and Jill Klepzig
*Finishes: Tied for first in OCC-Cardinal, second at sectional, 19th at district, did not score at state
*Seniors lost: Kellan Grainger, Issa Khalil, J.T. Lemmermen, Adam McCardle and Kade Wareham
*Key returnees: Kyle DeMoss, Zander Ellison and Deacon Sawchuk