It's closing time for the Hilliard Darby High School wrestling team.
The Panthers will try to turn a strong season into a very memorable one over the next few weeks, as they shift focus from the dual team tournament back to a run for the OCC-Cardinal Division title and preparation for a sectional tournament.
"There's still a lot of wrestling left and a lot of goals for our guys to accomplish," coach Brendan Moody said after the top-seeded Panthers lost to third-seeded Lancaster 42-30 in the Division I, Region 6 final Feb. 2. "We've got two big league duals left and we can learn from this and get better for the duals and for the postseason."
The host Panthers had a first-round bye in the team dual tournament and defeated ninth-seeded Westland 55-17 in a quarterfinal and fourth-seeded Watkins Memorial 48-17 in a semifinal before falling to the Golden Gales.
"We beat two pretty good teams decisively to get to the finals," Moody said. "We took care of business in those matches. But Lancaster was very, very good in the lower weights and we got pinned in two swing matches (at 132 and 152 pounds) in the middle that we figured we could win and that was the difference. We got beat by 12 and that's the two pins in the middle."
Lancaster won the first five matches by pin to take a 30-0 lead en route to earning a berth in the state tournament Sunday, Feb. 10, at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Ben Brown broke Darby's drought by winning 10-2 at 145, but Lancaster extended its lead to 42-4 before the Panthers won the final five matches, getting a pin by Justen Shaw at 170, wins by Isaiah Beneker at 182 and Rodney Beneker at 220 and forfeit wins at 195 and heavyweight.
The Panthers are 5-0 in the OCC-Cardinal with two remaining league duals: Thursday, Feb. 7, at Dublin Jerome and Feb. 14 at home against Bradley. They then will open the Division I postseason Feb. 23 in a 10-team sectional at Newark.
Moody is hoping Brown and Rodney Beneker continue their strong seasons.
"They are two of our returning district qualifiers from last season and I think they have aspirations of making it to state this year, along with Isaac Richards," Moody said. "We've got a few others who have had good seasons, but they don't have the district experience that those three seniors have."
Brown recently surpassed 100 career victories. According to Moody, he is approximately the 20th wrestler in program history to reach that milestone.
"That was a special night because it was the product of four years of high school wrestling and all the hard work I put into the sport since the third or fourth grade," Brown said. "There've been some great wrestlers come through here and I learned to lead and set the energy in practices from them and I'm trying to pass it down.
"We also have some tremendous coaches who help create a culture of winning, so we push each other hard in our practice environment. I'm hoping it's all leading to the (Schottenstein Center for the state tournament)."
Moody said he's a big fan of Brown.
"Nobody deserves a good season and a chance to compete at state more than Ben," Moody said. "I'm one of his biggest fans. He's been the pulse of our program lately and I have a lot of common traits with him in terms of his leadership. He can be a good cop or a bad cop depending on what the situation calls for. He's brutally honest with his teammates, but also fair. He's just a terrific guy to have in our room."
Girls basketball team to play for league title
The girls basketball team will play for at least a share of the OCC-Cardinal championship Friday, Feb. 8, at Thomas Worthington.
The contest also represents Darby's regular-season finale.
The Panthers were 15-5 overall and 10-2 in the league before playing at Olentangy Berlin on Feb. 5 and were tied for first with Dublin Scioto. The Irish played at Thomas on Feb. 5 and will play at Bradley on Feb. 8.
"It would be a huge thing to win a league championship and head into the postseason with a lot of momentum," said coach Tay Tufts, whose team entered the week on a six-game winning streak. "This program has won one league title in 2006-07. They had losing seasons 12 or 13 years in a row and they went 0-23 two years before I got here.
"But these girls have worked hard to change the culture and they're hungry for a league championship and to break the program's single-season record for wins, which is 18."
The Panthers are seeded 13th of 45 teams in the Division I district tournament and will play host to 24th-seeded Westerville North in the first round Feb. 16.
Darby defeated Jerome 50-26 on Feb. 1 and Willard 59-53 the next day. Annie Rauch had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Jerome and Sydney Wyngarden had 17 points and four assists.
The Panthers trailed Willard 44-42 after three quarters before outscoring the Tigers 17-9 in the fourth. Rauch had 19 points, Sophia Iosue scored 17, Sofia Gentile scored 12 and Wyngarden added nine.
Boys basketball team looked to end slide
The boys basketball team was looking to break a five-game losing streak when it played host to Berlin on Feb. 5.
The Panthers were 3-15 overall and 1-10 in the OCC-Cardinal before facing Berlin. Their lone league win came against the Bears, 47-45 on Dec. 21.
Darby was competitive in a 79-70 loss to once-beaten Canal Winchester on Jan. 29 before falling to Jerome 50-41 on Feb. 1. The Celtics improved to 9-2 in the OCC-Cardinal and were in second place in the league entering the week.
Andrew Patrick had 14 points at Jerome after scoring 21 at Canal Winchester. Kyle Miller and Nick Skelskey added 18 and 14 points, respectively, against the Indians.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 8 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals 41-31 on Jan. 8.
Feb. 12 -- Home vs. Jonathan Alder
*Feb. 8 -- At Thomas. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals 37-34 on Jan. 8.
*Feb. 8 -- Bradley at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Feb. 9 -- OCC-Cardinal meet at Thomas
Feb. 13 -- At Davidson with Bradley and Dresden Tri-Valley
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 9 -- Division I sectional at Upper Arlington. The winner of each event and 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites advance to district Feb. 15 at Ohio State. There is no diving at sectional.
*Feb. 7 -- At Dublin Jerome
Feb. 9 -- All-North Tournament at Jerome