The Hilliard Darby High School boys basketball team produced a rare win Jan. 15 by defeating visiting Watkins Memorial 54-38.
Although the Panthers lost to host Delaware 67-45 three days later, coach Chris Maul said he is expecting more wins in the final three weeks of the regular season.
"We knew it was going to be a growing season from the get-go with us losing six seniors to graduation that supplied at least 70 percent of our offense last year," said Maul, whose team was 3-11 overall and 1-7 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Jan. 22 at Dublin Scioto. "We had one returning starter in (senior) point guard Jaeln Benjamin, and he broke his leg in football after having a tremendous summer.
"We have an unselfish group, but it's taken longer than anticipated for them to raise their physicality and pace of the game from the j.v. to the varsity. We've taken our lumps, but our practices have been getting much better lately."
The win over Watkins Memorial snapped a five-game losing streak. Senior guard Kyle Miller had 23 points and sophomore guard Andrew Patrick scored 12.
"It's been a rougher season than previous years, but it's starting to come together," Miller said. "It has taken a bit, but our goal is to put together a nice run of play. Our motto is 'be relentless.' It doesn't matter what the score is, if we play with heart, at the end of the game we can be satisfied."
The Panthers have only two players who are taller than 6 feet in Patrick, who is 6-2, and 6-4 senior forward Kai Burmeister.
"I think our rebounding has been the biggest issue," said Miller, whose team will play host to Worthington Kilbourne in a league game Friday, Jan. 25. "We've got to be able to root (opponents) out. It doesn't matter how big we are, we've got to be mentally prepared to box out when the shot goes up and mentally tougher to get the ball."
During Benjamin's absence, sophomore Mehki Evans took over at point guard and Patrick was tasked to become a more prolific scorer.
"Mehki struggled with turnovers early, although he's cleaned that up now," Maul said. "Defenses began cheating to Andrew and he's relatively scrawny and it was a lot to put on his shoulders to try to lead us in scoring. He was our sixth or seventh guy last year and now is being counted on to lead the way. But Jaeln's been back for a bit and he's just now starting to get his burst and quickness back and those are the strengths in his game.
"I think it's also evident that our league is much better across the board this year than last year and, with our youth, that has been a tough combination for us."
Patrick was averaging a team-high 12.3 points through 13 games.
"Things haven't gone the way we hoped," Patrick said. "It's been a bit frustrating because I've never been on a losing team in baseball or basketball. But I love the challenge and being put in a tough spot has helped me focus more and try harder to improve my game. I don't see it as added pressure, just a challenge to get better.
"I think the struggles we have gone through will only make us better and tougher in coming years."
Patrick and Evans both scored nine points against Delaware.
Wrestlers remain perfect in OCC duals
The wrestling team defeated Dublin Scioto 51-24 on Jan. 17 to improve to 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal.
That followed the Panthers' 37-31 win over Delaware on Jan. 10.
The Pacers and Irish shared the league championship last season.
Darby has league duals Thursday, Jan. 24, at home against Thomas Worthington and Feb. 7 at Dublin Jerome before concluding its league schedule Feb. 14 at home against Bradley in a match that very well could decide the league championship.
The Panthers will compete in the Raider Invitational on Friday, Jan. 25, and Saturday, Jan. 26, at Bellefontaine Benjamin Logan.
Girls team remains in league title race
The girls basketball team defeated Delaware 51-33 on Jan. 18 and was 11-5 overall and 7-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Scioto on Jan. 22.
Entering play Jan. 22, Darby was tied with Thomas for second in the league behind Scioto (8-1).
The Panthers will play a league game Friday, Jan. 25, at Kilbourne.
Against Delaware, Annie Rauch had 17 points and Sydney Wyngarden and Sofia Gentile both scored seven.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne. The Panthers lost to the Wolves 61-40 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 29 -- At Canal Winchester
*Jan. 25 -- At Kilbourne. The Panthers beat the Wolves 44-39 on Dec. 14.
*Jan. 24 -- Olentangy Berlin at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 29 -- Whitehall at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 30 -- Gahanna at Ten Pin Alley
Jan. 29 -- At *Thomas Worthington with Bradley and Davidson
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 25 -- OCC-Cardinal diving meet at Thomas
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Cardinal swimming meet at Thomas
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Thomas
Jan. 25-26 -- Raider Invitational at Bellefontaine Benjamin Logan