After his team beat both programs from Pickerington in the Division I regional tournament to secure its first state berth, Olentangy Liberty High School boys basketball player Nick Nakasian talked about how well the Patriots share the ball.
To teammate Ben Roderick, an improving defense deserves as much credit in this breakthrough season.
It also didn't hurt, according to coach Greg Nossaman, that the Patriots made 13 of 16 free throws during a 64-58 victory over Pickerington North on March 16 in the regional final at Ohio Dominican.
There's also the atmosphere in the locker room to keep in mind when determining what helped the Patriots win their last 14 games to take a 24-4 record into a state semifinal against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at 8 p.m. Friday, March 22, at Ohio State.
"I'm just happy for these guys," Nossaman said. "(Before the regional final) they were ... watching TV and watching cartoons, laughing and giggling. But when the ball is thrown up, they're all business."
Liberty beat Pickerington Central -- last year's regional champion -- 66-58 in overtime March 14 in a regional semifinal at Ohio Dominican.
While Central had one of the area's best guards in senior Jahvon Garcia and North had one of central Ohio's top forwards in sophomore Jack Sawyer, St. Vincent-St. Mary possesses depth, height and experience.
The Irish, who improved to 23-3 with a 79-63 victory over Lima Senior in a regional final March 16, defeated Trotwood-Madison 60-51 to win last year's Division II state championship.
St. Vincent-St. Mary is making its 13th state appearance, including the 11th in 18 seasons with five Division II championships under coach Dru Joyce II. The Irish also won two Division III state titles under former coach Keith Dambrot.
Lunden McDay, a 6-foot-3 senior who averages 16.5 points and was first-team all-Northeast Inland District, and Seth Wilson, a 6-3 sophomore who averages 13 points and was third-team all-district, are returning starters.
Malaki Branham is a 6-5 sophomore who averages 13.5 points and was third-team all-district. He and senior Chris Painter, who was honorable mention all-district, also were key players a season ago.
"We're heading to state," Nakasian said. "It's unbelievable. I can remember when (some of our players) were in fifth grade on the same travel team. Our goal was always to win the state championship. When we got to high school we didn't know how realistic that was and we're making it come true."
The Patriots-Irish winner plays Lakewood St. Edward or Cincinnati Moeller for the state championship at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Ohio State.
Moeller is 27-0 and St. Edward is 19-8 heading into their semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday, March 22.
St. Edward beat Uniontown Green 71-53 in a regional final March 16 and Moeller defeated Centerville 59-41 in a regional final the same day.
Moeller has won 47 consecutive games, including last year's state title, and hasn't lost to an Ohio team since the 2017 state final, when it fell to Massillon Jackson 39-38 for its only loss that season.
The Crusaders beat Solon 83-65 in last year's state final. Alec Pfriem, a 6-4 senior who averages 15 points, and Miles McBride, a 6-2 senior who averages 14 points, were key players on that team.
St. Edward is led by Devontae Blanton, a 6-5 junior who averages 13.5 points.
Against Central, Liberty got 29 points from Roderick, who was named the Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year the next day.
The Patriots had a chance to win in regulation, but Henry Hinkle missed a pair of free throws with 0.8 of a second left. Mitchell Kershner made a 3-pointer and Roderick made a layup to begin overtime.
In the regional final, Roderick scored 20 points and Hinkle went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points. Nakasian added 13 points.
"It was a nice bounce-back game (for me), especially after missing two free throws at the end (of regulation in the regional semifinal)," Hinkle said. "Taking care of the ball was a lot better. My teammates encouraged me. I worked on my free throws and bounced back."
Patriots name Siehl as field hockey coach
Greg Siehl has been named field hockey coach, according to the school's athletics website.
He replaces Marianne Flannery, who guided the Patriots to a 100-28-4 record in seven seasons, including the only state tournament appearance in program history in 2016. Flannery stepped down after last season.
Also a coach for the Mojo Field Hockey Club, which is part of USA Field Hockey, Siehl coached at Willow Glen High School in San Jose, California, for the past seven seasons, including the past four as head coach.
He's a graduate of Denison University and Santa Clara University School of Law.
Liberty went 14-4 overall and 7-1 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-West Division last fall.