The Bexley High School boys basketball team reached a Division II district semifinal for the first time since 2014, which was especially rewarding for the 11 seniors on the roster.
Senior forward Ryan Callahan, who was in seventh grade the last time the Lions advanced that far, said it was great to be a part of the team that ended the drought.
"It's an awesome feeling," said Callahan, whose ninth-seeded team was 14-9 overall before playing top-seeded Columbus South in a district semifinal March 5. "Coach (Todd) Phillips and the rest of the coaches have done a great job getting us ready for this. It means so much to the 11 seniors on this team, and we want to make sure to have a lot of fun with it."
Bexley was one of four teams from the five-team MSL-Ohio Division to reach a district semifinal. In Division III on March 2, Columbus Academy outlasted Wellington 77-73, Grandview defeated West Jefferson 55-27 and Worthington Christian beat Mount Gilead 64-39 to reach district semifinals. Only Whitehall failed to advance, losing to Newark 61-43 on March 1 in the second round in Division I.
"It was tough this season, and we understand how tough our league was," said Callahan, whose team finished 2-6 in the league behind champion Academy (6-2). "We played a lot of close games in the league, and we know those tough games will help us in the tournament."
The Bexley-South winner plays sixth-seeded Beechcroft or seventh-seeded Watterson in a district final Saturday, March 9, at Ohio Dominican. The district champion plays in a regional semifinal March 14 at Bowling Green.
The Lions lost district finals in 2010 (DeSales 52-49), 2005 (Whitehall 66-63) and 2004 (Beechcroft 49-45). They last won a district championship in 2003 with a 58-56 victory over Canal Winchester, but lost to St. Bernard Roger Bacon 75-45 in a regional semifinal.
The Lions had a first-round bye before defeating 11th-seeded Centennial 75-53 on March 2 at home. They clicked both offensively and defensively to move into the district semifinal.
Senior guard Nasir Tucker led with 21 points and four of the Lions' 11 3-pointers. Callahan had 20 points and junior guard Damian Davis added 13 points with three 3s.
The Lions also limited Centennial senior post player Myles Martinez to eight points, seven below his average.
"(Senior forward) Leo Schottenstein really guarded Martinez well," Phillips said. "We knew if we could guard them and get them to play five-on-five then we liked our chances.
"We took the bye in the tournament because we had a lot of man days missed (because of weather), and we weren't very consistent. But the kids came in ready to practice and I thought we were as healthy and prepared as we have been in a long time. That's something we're going to need going forward."
Girls basketball team falls in district semi
When looking back at the season, fifth-year coach Joshua Price said he won't remember the girls basketball team's 34-30 loss to second-seeded Granville in a Division II district semifinal Feb. 26 at Pickerington North.
Instead, Price will remember the legacy left by his four-member senior class.
The 13th-seeded Lions finished 15-10 overall and placed second (6-2) in the MSL-Ohio behind Worthington Christian (7-1) thanks in part to senior forwards Makayla Burzynski, Emma Dressel and Serena Sereki and senior guard Maddy Vincent.
Vincent was second-team all-district and first-team all-league, leading the Lions in scoring (14.1 points), rebounds (6.1), steals (2.2) and 3-point percentage (17-for-44, 38.6 percent). She also averaged 2.4 assists and finished with 1,144 career points.
Dressel (honorable mention all-league) averaged 4.3 points and 3.8 rebounds. Burzynski and Sereki both provided a strong defensive presence in the paint.
"This was a special group of young ladies," Price said. "I just cannot say enough about them. These girls have laid a foundation for this program over the last four years and made this program go in the right direction.
"From working with the youth and middle-schoolers who come to our camps to helping incoming freshmen, they set a foundation that we as coaches can't set. What I'll think about with these specific seniors was not any one play or one game on the floor. What I'll think of is the impact they have had on the program from the day they walked into the high school until they day they graduate. That impact can go for a long time."
The Lions reached their first district semifinal since 2015.
Vincent led the way against Granville with 16 points.
"The girls did all we asked of them, which is to compete, just like they did all year long," Price said. "This game was no exception. We clawed and scratched, showed grit and fight."
Starters expected to return are sophomore point guard Maddy Young (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league; 9.4 points, 3.4 assists,1.4 steals) and sophomore guard Aly Cox (3.4 points).
Also expected back are junior guard/forward Sophia Baker and sophomore forwards Maia Ben-David and Zoe Boxill.
"The girls that are coming back have the opportunity to make themselves better," Price said. "Championships are won in the offseason, and the work coming up isn't always the most fun, but it's what makes the difference. I think we have a group of girls who are willing to put in that work."
Wrestling coach sees bright future
Freshman Noah Lyons went 0-2 at 138 pounds as the wrestling team's lone competitor in the Division II district tournament March 1 and 2 at Heath.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
"From start to finish, we saw a lot of progress this season," said coach Chris Bragg, who competed his fourth season. "Getting a freshman out to district shows the other freshmen what is possible with hard work.
"Noah would have liked to done better, but he got that experience and it's a start. We know good things are coming for him."
The Lions won their third consecutive MSL-Ohio championship Feb. 16 at Whitehall. They defeated Academy 60-24, Grandview 60-18 and Whitehall 45-36 in the round-robin dual tournament.
Seniors Hunter Hilgeman (160) and Eammon Sears (145), junior Anthony Samson (152), freshman Blake Brenner (113) and Lyons all won league titles.
"We have a good group coming back and we're only losing three seniors," Bragg said. "This year we had a first-year senior (Kevin Villatoro) come out (and he) helped us win the league (by placing second at 220).
"There will be a lot of wrestling in the offseason and that's expected. It will be a big help."