When the Gahanna Lincoln High School girls basketball team lost to Westerville South during a regular-season meeting in mid-December, two of its starters were not in uniform for undisclosed reasons.
The Lions made 10 3-pointers to keep it close before succumbing 63-55 on Dec. 17, and again made 10 3s when the teams met in a Division I district final March 2 at Ohio Dominican.
Junior guards Edyn Battle and Morgan Darnell were in uniform for the rematch after missing the first matchup, but their presence wasn't enough to overcome the Wildcats' offensive depth.
With five players scoring in double figures, sixth-seeded South beat the eighth-seeded Lions 70-58 for the district title and improved to 19-5 a season after finishing as a regional runner-up.
Gahanna, which also lost in a district final in 2017 and fell in a regional semifinal last winter under former coach Betsy Baker, finished 18-8 overall in its first season under Ron Bailey.
"As a team, we've overcome a lot of adversity and have just come together," senior guard Madison Hensley said. "We started playing a lot better communication-wise and being there for one another."
In the district final, South built a 36-27 halftime lead and led 55-42 heading into the fourth quarter. Gabby Hutcherson, a 6-foot-2 junior post player and an Ohio State recruit, led the Wildcats with 16 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
Battle totaled 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Darnell had 16 points to lead the Lions, who upset third-seeded Dublin Coffman 75-72 in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Olentangy Orange.
Gahanna built a 39-25 halftime lead on the Shamrocks. Senior guard and Ohio State commit Jacy Sheldon scored 20 of her 31 points in the third quarter to help Coffman take a four-point lead before the Lions charged back to tie the game at 72.
With five seconds left, Hensley made a game-winning 3-pointer.
"There was a lot going through my head because the whole game was very intense," Hensley said. "I kind of was getting really tired at the end, so I felt like I needed to do this for my team. I was so tired that I didn't think it would go in."
Hensley was named honorable mention all-OCC-Ohio Division as the Lions went 6-4 to place third behind Pickerington Central (10-0) and Reynoldsburg (7-3).
Battle averaged 14.5 points and was third-team all-district and first-team all-league while Darnell was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Freshman guard/forward Gabby Anderson was special mention all-league.
Others eligible to return include juniors Kennadi Harris (guard) and Kyla Smith (guard/wing player), sophomores Joi Bradley (guard), Naomi Johnson (forward) and Alex VanHorssen (guard) and freshmen Gracie Hensley (forward/guard) and Bella Ward (forward/guard).
"We knew (Coffman was) a great basketball team," Bailey said. "Like Dublin Coffman, Westerville South has great players and great coaches.
"We've just been trusting each other and the last play (against Coffman) showed it. Edyn drove and instead of forcing up a shot, Madison was wide open and she kicked the ball out to her and she hit the shot. They're out there trusting and believing in each other."
Wrestlers end season at district
The wrestling team had five competitors at the Division I district tournament March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby, but none advanced to state.
Cristian Salazar (113 pounds), who went 0-2 at state last season, won his first two district matches before getting pinned by eventual champion Logan Agin in 3:23 in a semifinal. He then lost to Teays Valley's Zander Graham 13-9 in the fourth round of consolation before beating Westland's Trent Jude 7-2 to place fifth and improve to 34-4 and be a state alternate.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
"He lost to a really fired-up kid from Teays Valley who he pinned earlier in the year," coach Mike Flusche said. "It was close. It came down to the last five seconds of the match."
Finishing 2-2 at district were Charles Williams (120), who finished the season 24-10, and Nate Garbark (195), who finished 21-13. Juan Porras (126) went 1-2 at district to finish 28-14.
Charles Pearson (106) went 0-2 at district to finish 6-13.
Dylan Kankiewicz (152) also qualified for district but did not compete.
Bowling teams fall short of making state
A strong performance in the Baker games helped the boys bowling team get back into contention for a state berth in the Division I district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes, but the Lions ultimately fell 32 pins short of advancing.
Gahanna placed fourth (3,983) of 16 teams behind Westerville Central (4,243), Marion Harding (4,216) and Westerville South (4,015).
The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to state.
Dalton Cararo led the Lions by tying for 24th with a 583 three-game series. Hunter McKnight tied for 27th (578), Spencer Watson was 33rd (573), Nathan Minzler tied for 38th (566) and Deandre Quiero was 76th (491).
The girls team followed its run to a state title last season by placing seventh (3,199) at district March 2 at HP Lanes behind champion Westerville Central (3,785).
Lilu Smith finished 23rd (506) to lead the Lions, followed by Kaitlyn Mundschenk (tied for 24th, 504), Taylor Burns (57th, 435), Victoria Richardson (62nd, 430) and Aubree Packer (72nd, 398).
Boys basketball team loses to Big Walnut
The 15th-seeded boys basketball team lost to 26th-seeded Big Walnut 59-52 on March 1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament to finish 15-9.
The Lions and Golden Eagles were tied at 43 early in the fourth quarter before Big Walnut went on a 13-2 run.
Sean Jones had 17 points to lead Gahanna. Elijah Thomas added 12 points and Maceo Williams scored 11.