As it prepared for its Division I district semifinal March 6 at Westerville Central, the Reynoldsburg High School boys basketball team listed holding Upper Arlington’s C.J. Karsatos and Max Martz to a combined 10 points as one of its biggest keys to victory.
That’s exactly what occurred during a 35-33 victory over the eighth-seeded Golden Bears, giving the seventh-seeded Raiders a chance to win a second consecutive district championship. It also reflects the character that coach Scott Davis believes he saw from his team this winter.
“We really only had one player back from last year’s team, and it’s a credit to these kids wanting to leave their own mark on the program,” Davis said. “I’m not sure a lot of people expected us to (finish 20-6) and have the kind of year we did. It just speaks volumes about the type of kids we have in our program. They’re really coachable kids; they believe in one another (and) they play together.”
The Raiders’ only key returnee, senior guard Ben Fort, nearly sent his team to a second consecutive regional tournament but had a long 3-pointer at the buzzer come up short in a 50-49 loss to third-seeded Pickerington Central in a district final March 9 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
The Raiders rallied from a 41-36 deficit early in the fourth quarter to take a 47-45 lead on a basket by senior guard Xavier Prince with 2 minutes, 44 seconds remaining.
Reynoldsburg led 49-48 with 55.5 seconds to go after junior forward Sean Moore made a pair of free throws.
After Central retook the lead with 36.9 seconds left, the Raiders tried to set up a game-winning shot but committed a turnover.
They got the ball back with 1.9 seconds to play to set up Fort’s final attempt.
Reynoldsburg’s defense nearly led it to its fourth district title. Of the Raiders’ losses, three came to Central and two came to another district champion, Pickerington North.
“Our defense has been great mostly all year,” Fort said. “No one’s been hitting their average.”
Fort averaged 11 points last season and increased his scoring average to 15 this winter while making first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and third-team all-district.
Moore averaged 10 points and made honorable mention all-league as the Raiders went 6-4 to place third behind co-champions Central and North (9-1).
Senior forward Sahmi Willoughby averaged 8.5 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Prince averaged 6.3 points and was honorable mention all-district.
Junior guard Nick Wallace averaged 6.6 points and should join Moore and sophomore guard Josiah Mobley (5.1 points) as top returnees.
Junior guards James Dean, Andree’ Mock and Shon Strickland were other contributors, and freshman guard Cooper Davis was seeing more playing time by season’s end.
Sophomore Zaveon Croff and freshman Julian Heckman are others eligible to return.
“Our kids believed and obviously the turnovers hurt us there at the end,” coach Davis said. “I really think there’s such a fine line between the eight teams (that competed for district titles). Any one of those eight teams could represent our district (in the state tournament).”
Girls basketball team loses regional final
Heading into the Division I regional final March 8 at Otterbein, the girls basketball team had won 17 of 18 contests with its only loss coming to Pickerington Central 56-48 on Feb. 1.
That stretch included wins over district runner-up Gahanna (73-67 on Jan. 17) and regional semifinalist Westerville South (68-37 on Jan. 23).
The Raiders even avenged a regular-season loss to Newark with a 47-40 victory in a regional semifinal March 5 at Otterbein.
One of the few teams on Reynoldsburg’s schedule that it couldn’t get the better of this season was Central, and the Tigers beat the Raiders for the third time with a 66-39 decision in the regional final.
“When our seniors were freshmen, they got to go down to (the state tournament) and we talked about getting back there,” coach Jack Purtell said. “We played (Central) twice (during the regular season) and we got better against them each time. I’m happy for our kids and happy for our school (to make it to a regional final).
“We had four starters back from last year. We won 20 last year and there was a period in December where we were still trying to find ourselves. All of a sudden the kids settled into their roles. We’ve been to nine district finals in 10 seasons. (We’ve had) so many good players and kids that kind of buy into what we’re doing.”
In the regional final, the Raiders fell behind 36-16 by halftime and were unable to get back into a game that was controlled by the play of senior Penn State recruit Madison Greene.
Senior forward Uju Ezeudu, a Denver recruit who finished with more than 1,300 career points and more than 800 career rebounds, scored 16 points.
Ezeudu averaged 18.4 points for the Raiders, who will lose two other starters in guard Destiny Fields (8.8 points) and wing player Bre Johnson (4.6 points) after going 21-7.
Ezeudu was first-team all-district and all-league, and Fields was honorable mention all-league. Johnson has committed to Indiana Tech.
Junior guard Kyria Walker and freshman forward Alexia Mobley averaged 9.1 and 9.5 points, respectively, while making second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
With Walker battling illness and seeing limited time in a 61-32 victory over Upper Arlington in a district final March 2 as well as against Newark, freshman guard Makiya Miller saw increased playing time.
Miller averaged 3.7 points and according to Purtell is a player with a bright future who “just gets it.”
Others eligible to return include junior guards Malaysia Miller and Jazmyn Fields, sophomore guards Cassidy Collins and Taylor Starks and freshman guard Jamiona Ross.
“It’ll be different (next season),” Purtell said. “I have a couple girls who people will be surprised with. Jamiona Ross is going to be fantastic and is just a really good athlete.”
Wrestlers bringing back strong nucleus
When he was a freshman in 2015-16, Kyle Copas won 10 matches and was a part of a wrestling program that failed to advance anyone to the Division I district tournament.
That proved to be a bottom point for Copas, a senior who was one of eight Raiders to compete at district this winter.
“It’s pretty amazing that from my freshman year we had zero to now having eight district qualifiers,” he said. “With the people we have in here, everyone’s improving.”
Copas became a three-time district qualifier who finished with a 107-59 career record, which included a 1-2 mark at district March 1 and 2 at Mentor.
The only other seniors in Reynoldsburg’s postseason lineup were Jonathan Axel Balmeo (182), who finished fifth at sectional but ended up competing in place of another wrestler at district, and Gary McCreary (138), who was fourth at sectional. Both went 0-2 at district.
Junior Noah Ratliff (152) should be the top returnee after going 2-2 at district and 35-9 overall.
“As a team we weren’t expecting this many district qualifiers,” Ratliff said. “We surpassed our goal as a team. This year especially we were building more as a family. We changed it from an individual sport to building each other up as people.”
The other district competitors for the Raiders were juniors Isaiah Boateng (126), Aaron Reynolds (132), Zach Frye (195) and Colin Harvey (220).
Freshman Gracie Straughter (113) finished fourth at sectional but did not compete at district.
Juniors Peighton Irish-Arnett (106) and Romeo White (160), sophomores Gaven Miller (170) and Dalton Hall (heavyweight) and freshman Jeremiah Boateng (120) were the other sectional competitors.
“We had a few things happen that were out of our control, but the only thing you can ask for is to grow weekly and we finished our best tournament of the season at the sectional, which is what you want,” coach Jon Forgy said. “We’re really growing each year and improving.”