Big Walnut boys basketball coach Brett Bartlett predicted a tight race in the OCC-Capital Division before the season began, and the Golden Eagles are very much in the hunt for a strong finish in the league.
Big Walnut was 10-6 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Capital before playing New Albany on Jan. 24.
"Coach Bartlett keeps saying that this is the year where it's anybody's league," junior guard Jared Kreager said. "We know we can make a run. We've played with all these teams, and we know we can beat them. It just comes down to executing."
Entering play Jan. 24, Big Walnut was tied with Canal Winchester and New Albany for third behind Newark (5-1) and Groveport (4-2).
The Golden Eagles will play host to Newark on Friday, Jan. 31, after losing to the Wildcats 56-44 on Dec. 20. Kreager had a team-high 12 points in the loss and junior guard Jagger Barnett scored 11.
"With Newark, it's all about taking care of the basketball and handling their pressure," Bartlett said. "They do a really good job of trying to speed you up and put pressure on you defensively and they're really good at taking charges, so we've got to get good shots and not turn (the ball) over."
Big Walnut turned in strong defensive efforts in recent victories over Canal Winchester (61-39 on Jan. 17) and Fairfield Union (59-33 on Jan. 18).
The Golden Eagles outscored Fairfield Union, which was ranked third in the Division II state poll at the time, 14-5 in the first quarter and 15-4 in the third. Barnett had a game-high 16 points with four three-pointers. Kreager added 14 points against the Falcons, and Kegan Hienton scored 11.
"We had a really good weekend and played really good half-court defense," Barnett said. "We executed our game plan both nights. Our defense has really improved going into the second half of the year."
However, a late defensive lapse cost Big Walnut in a 48-47 loss to Olentangy on Jan. 21, as the Braves rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes.
Hienton had a game-high 19 points.
Girls basketball team coping with injuries
Abby Facemyer, a senior post player for the girls basketball team who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, is out for the rest of this season after suffering the same injury, coach Jason Crawford said.
Two other starters, senior forward Payton Carter and senior guard Alexis Schone, also have missed playing time because of injuries.
"There are obviously positives and negatives to that," Crawford said. "The positives are that other kids are getting a chance to get minutes that they wouldn't otherwise have gotten."
In her first start of the season, junior forward Annie Thomas scored 10 points in a 45-43 victory over host Olentangy on Jan. 21.
The Golden Eagles were 13-2 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing New Albany on Jan. 24.
Senior guard Avery Schone hit two free throws with 2.8 seconds left to lift Big Walnut past the Braves.
Through 15 games, Avery Schone was averaging a team-high 12.5 points, followed by junior guard Abby Brown and Carter, both of whom were averaging nine points.
The Golden Eagles will need plenty of scoring with a couple of strong opponents looming on the schedule. They will visit Westerville North on Tuesday, Jan. 28, before traveling to OCC-Capital-leading Newark on Friday, Jan. 31.
North was 13-3 before playing Olentangy on Jan. 24 and Newark was 16-2 overall and 5-0 in the league before facing Franklin Heights on Jan. 24. The Golden Eagles lost to the Wildcats 58-37 on Dec. 20.
"We're always talking to our kids about winning as many games as possible to try and position ourselves for a good spot in the (Division I district) tournament," Crawford said.
Swimmers prep for postseason
The swimming and diving teams will compete Friday, Jan. 31, against Westerville South and Worthington Christian at Westerville Recreation Center before turning their attention to the postseason.
The swimmers will compete in a Division I sectional Feb. 8 at Thomas Worthington, while the divers begin the postseason with the district meet Feb. 12 and 13 at Ohio State.
The Golden Eagles competed in the OCC-Capital meet Jan. 25 at Kenyon College.
In a dual meet against Gahanna on Jan. 17, junior Jordan May of the girls team swam a school-record 1 minute, 17.84 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke. The previous record was held by 2016 graduate Josie Sweeney-Rogers (1:18.64).
Braden Buckler of the boys team finished first in the 200 individual medley (2:25.35).
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 31 -- Home vs. Newark. The Golden Eagles lost to the Wildcats 56-44 on Dec. 20.
Jan. 28 -- At Westerville North
*Jan. 31 -- At Newark. The Golden Eagles lost to the Wildcats 58-37 on Dec. 20.
*Jan. 27 -- Westerville South at Palace Lanes
*Jan. 30 -- Westerville North at Capri Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 31 -- Westerville South and Worthington Christian at Westerville Recreation Center
*Jan. 30 -- At Franklin Heights