What looked like a mismatch on paper proved to be a close contest when the 15th-seeded Hartley girls basketball team faced third-seeded Westerville South in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 26 at Pickerington North.
The Hawks trailed 16-6 after the first quarter but battled back against the Wildcats before falling 46-40 to finish 15-8 overall.
"Tournament time is great," coach Donald Dennis said. "It's exciting. I'm really proud of these kids. We did not bring back a lot of experience from last year and a lot of these kids are playing varsity basketball for the first time. I'm really proud of the effort."
Junior guard Milayna Williams, who averaged six points, scored 11 to lead Hartley. Sophomore guard Lexi Cashwell added nine points and junior forward Kami Kortokrax scored eight.
Gabby Hutcherson, a senior guard and an Ohio State commit, scored 17 of her 22 points in the first half as South took a 28-21 lead into halftime. The Wildcats played without senior guard and Ohio State commit Anyssa Jones, a first-team all-district honoree who is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Hartley went 4-2 in the CCL to finish as runner-up to Watterson (6-0) despite having just one key senior in forward Sa'Haia Clark-Lee, who averaged eight points.
The Hawks, who won 11 of their first 13 games, opened the postseason with a 43-33 win over 23rd-seeded Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 21 in a second-round game.
Kortokrax averaged 17 points and eight rebounds and was named second-team all-district.
Junior guard Shania Davis, sophomore guards Bella Parker and Makailah Walker, freshman guard Kiarra McElrath and freshman post player Ella Brandewie are others eligible to return.
Brandewie already is being recruited by colleges in women's volleyball and Kortokrax has committed to play softball for Ohio State.
"We have two freshmen that really stepped in," Dennis said. "Ella Brandewie made tremendous strides. McElrath made tremendous strides. Those kids, along with Lexi Cashwell and Makailah Walker, who are sophomores, made great progress in terms of their understanding of how to play basketball at the varsity level and how to play together. I'm hopeful the relationship they built with each other will continue into the summer and we'll essentially be the same team next year.
"It's a small school, so you've got to share the kids in a small school (with other sports) and hope they stay healthy and hope they stay interested in being multi-sport kids. When they come to us, they're championship-caliber kids. It makes our other kids better."
Boys basketball team falls to Cougars
The 13th-seeded boys basketball team trailed 15-0 after the first quarter and lost to sixth-seeded Beechcroft 37-26 on Feb. 29 in the second round of the Division II district tournament.
Amari Gaston had seven points to lead the Hawks, who finished 8-14.
Most of boys bowlers to return
The boys bowling team showed its capabilities during the Baker games in the Division II sectional Feb. 14 at HP Lanes.
The Hawks were third after the three regulation games before turning in a second-best 1,066 over the six Bakers on their way to earning placing second overall (3,463) of 28 teams, behind Heath (3,756).
"It seemed like we got better every game (at sectional)," coach Chris Blum said. "It's been a long season and been a good season, but I feel like we're finally operating well as a team. In those Bakers, it just kind of came together."
Hartley then finished ninth (3,337) at the 12-team district tournament Feb. 20 at HP Lanes behind champion Heath (3,942) as the top two teams advanced to state.
The Hawks were led by their only senior, Victor Jackson, who finished 12th of 78 bowlers with a 557 three-game series.
"It was great getting a new team and getting everyone started because last year we graduated six seniors," Jackson said. "It was really fun to get a new team going."
Hartley finished 11-5 overall, placed fourth in the COHSBC-D Division at 9-3 and finished fourth in the CCL at 3-5, behind DeSales (7-1), St. Charles (6-2) and Ready (4-4) and ahead of Watterson (0-8).
Jackson led the Hawks in COHSBC play with a 180.0 average, followed by sophomores Marlin Yarborough (175.8) and Ayden Jordan (172.2).
Junior Andrew Grosko, who tied for 19th (527) at district, and sophomores Sam Shisler, Noah Shultz, Shane Shultz and Bradley Teynor also were key bowlers. Junior Ben Gegorski is another eligible to return.
Girls bowlers losing four seniors
The girls bowling team had its season end with a 39th-place finish (2,365) at the Division I sectional Feb. 22 at HP Lanes.
Three of the Hawks' six competitors during regulation play, Kayleigh Donovan, Libby Erwin and SaMarra Pointer, were seniors.
The Hawks finished 10-4 overall, placed fourth in the COHSBC-D at 9-2 and tied DeSales for third in the CCL at 2-4, behind co-champions Ready and Watterson (both 4-2).
Junior Maria Kelley led Hartley at sectional with a 402 three-game series, finishing 43 pins shy of qualifying for district individually. Sophomores Annie Flores and Camille Payne also competed in regulation play.
Junior Trinity Thompson was a key contributor during the regular season.
"Maria Kelley has been consistent," Blum said. "I remember when she came out of tryouts she had bowled a 101 and stayed in the low 100s for the first two weeks of matches, but then she started lighting it up in practice and raising it up to the 140s and 150s. I'm really, really proud of her. I feel like Annie Flores has picked up her average a lot."