The most pressure-packed portion of the season awaits the Hilliard Bradley boys basketball team, but coach Brett Norris also believes it's the best part.
The second-seeded Jaguars reached a Division I district semifinal for the fourth consecutive season. They faced 11th-seeded Westerville South on March 4, with the winner advancing to play eighth-seeded Newark or 10th-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district final Saturday, March 7, at Ohio Dominican.
"With each line (on the tournament bracket), with each game, it gets more fun," said Norris, whose team was 22-2 before playing South. "The opponents keep getting better and better and it's a lot of fun. It's why you play."
The Jaguars are seeking their second district championship in three seasons.
"It sounds crazy to say, but all you really want is to play again," said Norris, whose team was ranked fifth in the final state poll. "Obviously, you have to play well to keep playing, but all that's important is that you keep advancing. Everybody is going to be playing at their emotional best, so you just have to go out and do what's needed to move on."
The district champion faces third-ranked Gahanna, ninth-ranked Walnut Ridge, Reynoldsburg or Whitehall in a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 11, at Ohio Dominican. The regional final is March 14 at Ohio Dominican.
Bradley, which lost to Walnut Ridge 45-44 on Jan. 4, cruised through its first two postseason contests at home. They defeated 41st-seeded Central Crossing 51-26 on Feb. 22 in the first round and 39th-seeded Lancaster 54-38 on Feb. 27 in the second round. Against the Golden Gales, Matt Allocco had 16 points and Chris Mayfield scored 10.
"We have to continue to play like we have all season and just treat (postseason games) like they are normal games," Mayfield said. "We can't have any expectations of the team we play. We just have to come in and play hard."
Allocco said getting through the postseason jitters was important to being successful.
"I think the first few (games) are always the toughest," he said. "Tournament basketball, no matter what round, no matter what seed you are, there's always a little added pressure. But if we stay the course and play hard, we can get the job done."
Franco places second at state in wrestling
Sol Franco finished as runner-up at 160 pounds in the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association's inaugural state girls tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Davidson.
The sophomore went 3-1, losing to Grove City's Francesca Lanese 4-0 in the final.
"It was a lot of fun because it was the first girls (state) tournament ever," Franco said. "I didn't expect to get second place. I'm happy with that. I'm proud to be here."
Also competing for the Jaguars were Hailey Amador, who went 1-2 at 126, and Katie Showalter, who went 2-2 at 101.
Girls team falls in district semifinal
The 10th-seeded girls basketball team lost to seventh-seeded Gahanna 60-38 on Feb. 26 in a Division I district semifinal at Jonathan Alder.
Sophomore forward Macy Chapman had 12 points and junior guard Chloe Callahan scored 10 to lead the Jaguars, who finished 17-7 overall.
Bradley went 11-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to share the league championship with Worthington Kilbourne. It marked the Jaguars' first league title since winning three in a row from 2015-17.
"I'm totally thrilled with the season because I told (the players) three things they needed to do this season and they kept on it," said second-year coach Steve De Dent, whose team went 6-17 last season.
"We wanted them to score better than last year, and we did. We wanted to eliminate a lot of the turnovers, and we did a better job with that. We also wanted to play great defense to give us a chance to win, and we did that. We only had one team score more than 50 on us and that was Gahanna, and we held teams under 40 points 17 times."
The Jaguars are losing two seniors in guard Emily Marschhausen and forward Madi Phillis. Marschhausen averaged 6.3 points and was a team-best 38-for-113 (33.6 percent) on 3-point attempts and was named second-team all-league. Phillis averaged 4.7 points, 1.8 assists and a team-high 6.0 rebounds and was special mention all-league.
"Madi was unbelievable on the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet," De Dent said. "She was a great defender and was second in assists for us.
"Emily was our top 3-point shooter and she really trimmed her turnovers down a whole bunch from last year. She figured out when to take shots or get in position to take good shots."
Bradley expects to return the league Player of the Year in Callahan, who averaged 14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists and also was third-team all-district. Her twin sister, Carly Callahan, was lost for the season in December with a knee injury.
Also expected back are Chapman, who averaged 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league, and freshmen forwards Leigha Dennison and Hailey Parsell.
Gymnasts end season at district
The gymnastics team finished its season Feb. 22 in the district meet at Kilbourne, placing 11th (129.8) of 27 teams.
The Jaguars were led by junior Paige Hamilton and freshman Averey Jervis. Hamilton finished 26th (33.325) of 194 competitors in the all-around, 13th on floor exercise (8.975) and 22nd on balance beam (8.55), and Jervis was 32nd (33.175) in the all-around and 20th on uneven bars (8.525).
Also competing in the all-around were junior Gabi Graff (43rd, 32.2), freshman Abby Granville (67th, 30.65) and junior Alice McAnespie (84th, 29.375).