The Hilliard Darby boys basketball team is preparing to face a major test in its Division I district tournament opener.
The Panthers, who were 6-15 overall before concluding the regular season Feb. 18 against Jonathan Alder and finished 5-9 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, are seeded 35th and will visit 10th-seeded Dublin Coffman in the first round Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Shamrocks are 16-6 and shared the OCC-Central title with Upper Arlington and Marysville.
"We've seen (Coffman) play a couple of times. They are very skilled," coach Chris Maul said. "They have a handful of guys who can really shoot it well. They space the floor. They rely on getting in the paint for layups, or (if) you collapse on them, they kick it out for 3."
Maul said the Panthers will need to play lockdown defense and keep the Shamrocks from getting the ball inside if they are to pull off the upset.
"The absolute key to the game is we must defend them all. We cannot let the ball get in the paint," Maul said. "If the ball gets in the paint, we're in some serious trouble. So (in practice) we'll really do a ton of one-on-ones and defensive drills emphasizing the ball cannot get in the paint."
In addition to fine-tuning the defense, Maul said his team has been working hard on shooting and perfecting its offensive schemes.
Maul said with the exception of a few games, including a pair of losses to Thomas Worthington, 64-40 on Jan. 7 and 70-44 on Feb. 7, the Panthers have held their own against opponents this season, but maintaining consistency throughout a game has been a challenge.
Such was the case Feb. 11, when Darby held Canal Winchester to 12 points in the first half, but was outscored 37-21 in the second half and lost 49-39. The Panthers shot 14-for-50 (28 percent) from the field against the Indians.
"If you hold a team to 12 points and you lose, I mean, we have to be able to make shots," Maul said. "So we're continuing to get a lot shots up in practice, having a healthy balance of defensive and offensive reps, but also just a lot of shots for our guys."
Guard Parker Hambel, who was averaging a team-high 7.6 points through 21 games, agreed that the Panthers need to be consistent to be successful in the postseason. However, he likes the team's chemistry.
"I feel like we're all finally coming together and we're learning each other's tendencies and things like that," Hambel said. "We just really need to focus on finishing in the fourth quarter."
Hambel, guards Nick Skelskey and Mekhi Evans and forward Jacob Foster should play key roles for the Panthers in the postseason. Before Feb. 18, Evans and Skelskey were averaging 6.8 and 6.2 points, respectively, while Jacobs was leading the team in field-goal percentage (50.6) and was second in rebounds, averaging 3.8.
"We have great practices," Maul said. "The kids execute well. We are very together, we have no chemistry issues. We have kids who do it the right way, and we're proud of their effort."
The Coffman-Darby winner will play 20th-seeded Olentangy Orange or 31st-seeded Dublin Jerome in the second round Feb. 28.
Apel heading back to state in diving
Hayden Apel is set to make his third appearance in the Division I state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton after placing fifth (511.8 points) in boys diving at district Feb. 13 at Ohio State.
The junior placed ninth (412.8) at state last season after finishing 19th (260.75) in 2018.
At state, swimming preliminaries will be held Friday, Feb. 21, and swimming finals and boys diving will be held Saturday, Feb. 22.
Also competing at district for the boys team were Braden Bower in the 200-yard freestyle (13th, 1 minute, 46.40 seconds) and 500 free (15th, 4:53.6), Chase Ellis in the 100 backstroke (28th, 58.93), Jared Hopkins in the 200 individual medley (19th, 2:02) and 100 breaststroke (14th, 59.58), Mason Irwin in the 200 free (seventh, 1:44.62) and 500 free (11th, 4:45.49), Casey Maruniak in the 100 breast (19th, 1:00.57), Mason Peck in the 200 free (fourth, 1:41.49) and 100 butterfly (fifth, 51:62), the 200 free relay (12th, 1:31.88), the 200 medley relay (seventh, 1:36.33) and the 400 free relay (seventh, 3:14.44).
Competing for the girls were Keira Porter in diving (seventh, 350.1), Morgan Morcher-Thaller in the 200 free (22nd, 2:02.91) and 500 free (22nd, 5:26.17), the 200 free relay (18th, 1:47.08), the 200 medley relay (18th, 1:58.33) and the 400 free relay (27th, 4:03.23).
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 advanced to state.
Here's a list of state qualifiers.
The boys team finished seventh (128) at district behind champion Upper Arlington (381.5) as 23 teams scored, while the girls finished 22nd (12) behind champion New Albany (378) as 26 teams scored.
Wrestlers finish second in league
The wrestling team defeated host Bradley 36-29 on Feb. 13 to place second in the OCC-Cardinal.
Darby finished 6-1 in the league, behind Delaware (7-0).
In the Division I, Region 6 dual tournament Feb. 8 at home, the sixth-seeded Panthers lost to third-seeded Teays Valley 54-15 in a quarterfinal. Posting wins for Darby were Sam Pennington (120 pounds), Nathan Morris (138) and Blayne Barnes (heavyweight).
The gymnastics, bowling and girls basketball teams open their postseasons this week.
The gymnastics team will compete in the district meet Saturday, Feb. 22 at Worthington Kilbourne.
The boys bowling team will compete in the Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, at HP Lanes, with the girls competing the following day at the same venue.
The 33rd-seeded girls basketball team will visit second-round Watterson in the second round of the Division I district tournament Friday, Feb. 21, with the winner advancing to play 13th-seeded Kilbourne, 21st-seeded Marion Harding or 26th-seeded Eastmoor Academy in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 26.