After a challenging regular season, the Hilliard Darby girls basketball team heads into the postseason with a renewed sense of energy and confidence.
The Panthers closed the regular season with a 38-35 win over Thomas Worthington on Feb. 7 to improve to 7-15 overall and finish 2-12 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak.
Darby, which also beat the Cardinals 37-22 on Jan. 7, is seeded 33rd of 48 teams in the Division I district tournament and will open the postseason Feb. 21 with a second-round game at second-seeded Watterson or at home against 40th-seeded Westerville Central.
"Going into the tournament, it's almost a completely new season. It starts over, and everything's on the line," junior center Sofia Gentile said. "If you win a game, you move on. And if you lose a game, you don't get to move on."
Gentile averaged six points through 20 games to rank second on the team in scoring behind sophomore guard Tayen Brown (6.8).
"All you want to see is us continue to show people that the regular season was just a fluke, and we're going to come back and we're going to be stronger and we're going to show teams that they shouldn't just write us off," Gentile said.
Freshman center Ashley Powers agreed.
"Coming into (the postseason), everyone has a different mindset," said Powers, who averaged 4.5 points through 20 games. "You need to win to keep going."
According to coach Tay Tufts, the Panthers have been playing more in-sync the past several weeks and have summoned a second wind.
"I like the way we're playing right now," he said. "The energy has been up, the girls have learned a lot and they continue to learn, and they have the right mindset.
"From a team perspective, they're jelling. I see it. They're talking more. They weren't talking before. Everyone was kind of their own individual. They're doing it now as a unit. That's what we want."
Gentile and Powers said the team has improved on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court since the start of the season. Offensively, they said the team is "being more aggressive" going to the basket.
The Panthers also have benefited from having sophomore guard Alexis Finnegan back in the lineup. Finnegan missed the first several weeks of the season with a fracture in her lower back. She returned in a 37-17 loss to Dublin Jerome on Jan. 3.
"She always brings energy on defense, especially, and it helps us have our energy up," Powers said. "And when she came back our energy was really different. We had pieces, and when one of the pieces was out, it was a bit difficult."
Despite the trials and tribulations of the season thus far, the Panthers feel confident entering the postseason.
"I think we learned to stop accepting losing," Gentile said. "We had a really rough regular season, but that's not who we are. We're not that team, we're not what that record shows. We're winners at heart and we're champions at heart, and so it's time we come out and show everybody what we're really made of."
Gymnasts finish fifth at OCC meet
The gymnastics team finished fifth (128.45) in the OCC-Cardinal meet Feb. 6 at Worthington Kilbourne.
The Panthers finished behind Olentangy Berlin (139.725), Dublin Jerome (139.575), Kilbourne (138.55) and Bradley (129.975) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (126.5), Delaware (120.225) and Thomas (120.075).
Darby also finished fifth in the overall league standings.
"Overall, a pretty solid night," coach Carol Eskay said. "Still need some improvement on (balance) beam with consistency ... but pretty clean and consistent on the events. But the biggest thing is ... we've got some great beam skills. We just have to stay on the beam. That's our main area of opportunity right now is getting consistent and staying on the beam."
Sophomore Annamarie Bayer had the team's best finish in the league meet, placing fifth on beam (9.075). She finished 16th in the all-around (32.675).
Juniors Laurel Bonn and Jenna Hartwell placed 22nd (32.075) and 24th (31.025), respectively, in the all-around.
The Panthers will compete in the district meet Feb. 22 at Kilbourne.
Swimmers ready for district meet
The swimming program had seven individuals and six relays advance to the Division I district meet Thursday, Feb. 13, at Ohio State.
Advancing in two individual events from the sectional Feb. 8 at Thomas for the boys team were Braden Bower in the 200-yard freestyle and 500 free, Jared Hopkins in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Mason Irwin in the 200 free and 500 free, Mason Peck in the 200 free and 100 butterfly and Morgan Morcher-Thaller in the 200 free and 500 free.
Winning titles were Peck in both the 200 free (1 minute, 45.92 seconds) and 100 fly (52.97), Bower in the 500 free (4:52.7) and the 400 free relay of Irwin, Bower, Chase Ellis and Peck (3:17.76).
Morgan Morcher-Thaller led the girls team, advancing in both the 200 free and 500 free.
From district, the top six boys divers, the top four girls divers, the top two finishers in each swimming event and 16 at-large qualifiers in each swimming event based on times statewide advance to the state meet, which begins Feb. 20 and concludes Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
The boys team finished second (197) at sectional behind New Albany (257), while the girls team finished 10th (37) behind champion New Albany (400).
Hayden Apel competed at district in boys diving Feb. 12, while Keira Porter will compete in girls diving Feb. 13. The top six boys divers advanced to state Feb. 22, while the top four girls divers will advance to state Feb. 20.
Athletes announce college decisions
Three student-athletes announced their college commitments Feb. 5.
Michael Beard will play men's volleyball at Urbana, Garrett Mudgett will play baseball at Walsh and Jack Stultz will play football at Tiffin.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 14 -- At Bradley. The Panthers lost to the Jaguars 59-49 on Jan. 10.
Feb. 18 -- At Jonathan Alder
Feb. 25 -- At 10th-seeded Dublin Coffman in first round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded 35th.
*Feb. 13 -- At Bradley
Feb. 15 -- All-North Tournament at Jerome