Canal Winchester High School boys basketball coach Lyndell Snyder already is letting himself peek ahead to next season, when four starters are eligible to return from the Indians' winningest team in 11 years.

Still, Snyder and his players went home with somewhat of an empty feeling after a 68-36 loss to fifth-seeded Pickerington North in a Division I district semifinal March 6 at Groveport.

Despite finishing 20-5 overall, the Indians fell one victory short of their first OCC-Capital Division championship and two wins shy of their first district championship since going 21-3 in 2008, when they were in Division II.

"If you would have told me before the season that we would be 20-5, I'd have taken it," Snyder said. "But this will sting for a little while. It's a tough one to end on, losing a game like this. But hats off to (North). They have a great program. We'll lick our wounds and find a way to move forward. I am so proud of these guys getting 20 wins. That makes for an outstanding season. The guys worked their guts out."

Junior forward Cole Metzler had nine points and 12 rebounds and junior forward Bilal Sow added nine points against North, which also had defeated 10th-seeded Canal Winchester 92-63 on Feb. 5. Unlike that night, when the Indians hung close for a half, the Panthers were in firm control of the semifinal for the final three quarters.

Canal Winchester was held without a field goal for 4 minutes, 9 seconds from late in the first quarter to midway through the second, and North finished the first half on a 13-2 run to lead 29-13 at halftime.

The Panthers led by as many as 23 points halfway through the third quarter.

Jack Sawyer, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who has committed to play football at Ohio State, led North with 26 points.

The Indians' leading scorer, senior guard Brady Snyder, was held to six points, including only one in the second half.

"We limited their second-chance opportunities," North coach Jason Bates said. "Snyder is a great player. He can shoot it from everywhere, so you hope to alter his shot, affect his shot as much as possible instead of giving him easy looks. Our bigger guys made sure they got only one shot each possession."

The loss took place in the same gym in which Canal Winchester's undefeated start came to an end. The Indians were 15-0 overall and 6-0 in the OCC-Capital before losing to Groveport 70-64 on Jan. 25.

Canal Winchester finished 7-3 in the league, second behind Newark (8-2).

Snyder averaged 17.3 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals and was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year and second-team all-district. He finished with 1,367 career points, which ranks fifth in program history behind 2008 graduate B.J. Mullens (1,868), 1993 graduate Shawn Haughn (1,809), 2000 graduate Greg Guiler (1,493) and 1953 graduate John H. Black (1,374).

Sow averaged 18.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Metzler averaged 13.7 points and 9.5 rebounds and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Junior guard Avery Musick averaged 6.4 points and was honorable mention all-league.

In addition to Metzler, Musick and Sow, the fourth starter eligible to return is junior forward Zach Miles. Junior forward Jack Beeler also saw considerable playing time.

"We didn't quit," coach Snyder said. "We always battled, but (North was) the better team (March 6) for sure."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave