Jason Bates went to a few basketball games last weekend, but even watching his brother and a former assistant coach win district championships did not completely take away the sting of his Pickerington High School North boys team falling short of its second consecutive Division I district title.
The Panthers' 20-win season came to an abrupt end March 7 when it lost to 16th-seeded Mount Vernon 61-58 in a district semifinal at Granville. Although senior guard Corey Baker and senior forward Jerome Hunter each scored 18 points, top-seeded North ultimately could not overcome a third quarter in which it was outscored 19-8 to fall behind 43-30.
The Panthers finished 20-5 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
"They definitely brought the game to us from the beginning," Bates said. "We didn't shoot as well or score like we usually do and we dug ourselves a hole. We went with a smaller lineup because we were struggling to defend them. We controlled the tempo somewhat in the second quarter and got back in the game (trailing 24-22 at halftime), but then Jerome and (senior forward) Dondre (Palmer) got into foul trouble in the third quarter and (Mount Vernon) made the deciding run.
"I thought we were prepared defensively to handle what they'd throw at us, but they were pretty effective at scoring around the rim. We didn't get stops the way we had all year."
Jeffrey Rucker's career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds led Mount Vernon, which lost to 10th-seeded Reynoldsburg 68-51 in a district final March 10 at Ohio Dominican. The Raiders handed North its only league loss this season, 53-52 on Feb. 9.
The Panthers, who won the program's first district championship last year, won the OCC-Ohio title by a game ahead of Pickerington Central (8-2). Gahanna and Reynoldsburg tied for third at 5-5, followed by Grove City (3-7) and Lancaster (0-10).
North cruised in its first two games of the 48-team district tournament, defeating 44th-seeded St. Charles 59-32 on Feb. 24 and 48th-seeded Columbus West 71-27 in a second-round game March 2.
Hunter, an Indiana recruit, averaged 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, both team-bests, as well as 2.6 steals and was named OCC-Ohio Player of the Year and co-district Player of the Year with Upper Arlington's Dane Goodwin.
Senior center/forward Eli McNamara (7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds), senior guard Ty Wiley (10.1 points, 5.4 assists) and freshman forward Jack Sawyer (10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) all were named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Baker and Palmer, who averaged 5.0 points and 4.8 rebounds, both were special mention all-league.
McNamara is a Miami University recruit and Palmer has committed to the University of Findlay.
Wiley will play football at Toledo.
"I just told the guys how proud I was of them and how critical they have been to what we've built," Bates said. "I'm disappointed the seniors couldn't culminate their careers with a district championship or something even better ... but this was definitely a life lesson. Anyone can be beaten at any time."
Bowling teams must replace top scorers
The boys and girls bowling teams each will lose its top scorer after being among the top teams in their leagues during the regular season but falling short of the Division I state tournament.
Senior William Hrivnak had a 208.3 game average to lead the boys team, which finished 11-2 overall, went 11-0 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division to win the championship ahead of runner-up Worthington Kilbourne (9-2) and went 4-2 in the OCC-Central to tie Marysville and Pickerington Central for second behind Gahanna (6-0).
Hrivnak finished 17th (560 three-game series) of 105 individuals in the district tournament March 3 at HP Lanes to fall short of a state berth by 36 pins.
The top three teams and three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state March 9 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Senior Mason Gibson averaged 186.1 and junior Steven Vance averaged 184.3 for the Panthers, who finished 17th (3,181) in the 38-team sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes behind champion Westerville Central (3,836). The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district.
Two other regular contributors are expected to return in junior Kyle Mace (160.3) and sophomore Caden Thieken (140.8).
The girls team finished 8-5 overall, went 7-4 in the COHSBC-B to finish fifth behind champion Hilliard Darby (11-0) and went 4-2 in the OCC-Central to place third behind champion Gahanna (6-0).
The Panthers finished 16th (2,875) in the 37-team sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes behind champion Gahanna (3,642) and ninth (2,955) of 16 teams at district behind champion Gahanna (3,596).
Senior Alex Oppenheimer had a team-best 161.3 average, ahead of classmate Alayah Robinson (145.4), freshman Alana Robinson (135.8) and junior Liz Arp (123.8).
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
*Record: 20-5 overall, 9-1 (first) in OCC-Ohio
*Seniors lost: Corey Baker, Jerome Hunter, Eli McNamara, Dondre Palmer, Tyler Potts, Ross Ryan and Ty Wiley
*Key returnees: Jack Sawyer, Chris Scott and Hunter Shedenhelm
*Record: Boys -- 11-2 overall, 11-0 (first) in COHSBC-B, 4-2 (tied for second) in OCC-Central; Girls -- 8-5 overall, 7-4 (fifth) in COHSBC-B, 4-2 (third) in OCC-Central
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Mason Gibson and William Hrivnak; Girls -- Lara Martindale, Alex Oppenheimer, Alayah Robinson and Tooba Salam
*Key returnees: Boys -- Kyle Mace, Caden Thieken, Steven Vance and Alex Zumoch; Girls -- Liz Arp and Alana Robinson