After the Olentangy Liberty hockey team had a four-goal lead cut to one late in a district semifinal against Orange on March 1 at Chiller North, senior Korey Raymond trusted his instincts on one of the game's most important sequences.

Raymond passed to sophomore Gage Schlotterbeck, who had held a hot hand all night, then crashed toward the net in case Schlotterbeck's shot was stopped or deflected.

"I saw the rebound pop out right onto my backhand and I just put it in," Raymond said.

That gave the Patriots a two-goal lead with 1 minute, 27 seconds to go, and Schlotterbeck added an empty-net goal a short time later as the Patriots won 7-4.

The victory advanced third-seeded Liberty to a fourth consecutive district final, where it will face fourth-seeded New Albany at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at OhioHealth Ice Haus.

The Patriots won district titles in 2011, 2013 and 2017, but lost district finals to Dublin Jerome the past two seasons.

Schlotterbeck finished with five goals against the Pioneers.

"We just had such a motivation to get to the district finals after last year having such a devastating (1-0) loss (to Jerome)," Schlotterbeck said.

Liberty beat seventh-seeded Berlin 4-1 on Feb. 29 in a quarterfinal at the Ice Haus and improved to 25-5-5-1 with the win over sixth-seeded Orange, which had upset second-seeded St. Charles 4-1 on Feb. 29 in a quarterfinal.

New Albany, meanwhile, heads into the district final after having upset top-seeded Upper Arlington 3-2 in a semifinal March 1 at Chiller North. The Eagles beat Liberty 3-1 on Jan. 4 and tied the Patriots at 2 on Jan. 31.

The district champion advances to a state semifinal March 14 at Nationwide Arena.

"We've definitely got to play simple," Schlotterbeck said. "Playing simple and fast is just our key to winning because simple and fast is our game -- no passes through the middle, everything direct, no taking too much time to pass the puck."

Boys basketball team makes district semi

With a 63-54 victory over 29th-seeded Northland on Feb. 28, the ninth-seeded boys basketball team improved to 18-6 and advanced to a district semifinal March 4 against seventh-seeded Thomas Worthington.

The winner plays fifth-seeded Pickerington North or 16th-seeded Chillicothe in a district final at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 7, at Ohio Dominican.

Should Liberty win a district title, it would play Columbus South, Westerville Central, Pickerington Central or Delaware in a regional semifinal March 12 at Ohio Dominican.

Against Northland, Henry Hinkle scored 23 points and made 14 of 16 free throws in the second half. Ty Foster had 16 points and Andrew Wade and Cam Barcus both added 11.

The Patriots opened the postseason with an 86-51 victory over 34th-seeded Mifflin on Feb. 22.

Girls squad falls to Indians

After losing in back-to-back Division I district finals, the 12th-seeded girls basketball team had its season end with a 48-43 loss to 14th-seeded Canal Winchester on Feb. 26 in a district semifinal at Whitehall.

The Patriots finished 17-8 overall and tied Westerville North for second (7-3) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Westerville South (9-1).

"Credit to (Canal Winchester) because they've got some good players and they play hard," coach Sam Krafty said. "With them having six seniors, they were going to die hard and play until the very end, and we didn't shoot the ball really well at all."

Liberty loses a four-member senior class that was led by senior wing player Kelly Levering, a Marietta commit who averaged 13 points and was third-team all-district.

Senior wing player Teegan Pifher, who has committed to High Point, missed most of the season with a knee injury. Senior guard Gina Santangelo also missed several games with an injury.

"We battled injuries throughout the entire season," Krafty said. "I'm very proud of them. They battled hard until the end."

The top players expected to return are sophomore guard Trinity Ramos, who along with Levering was first-team all-league, and junior guard Caitlin Splain, who was second-team all-league.

Sophomore post player Jordan Rich was honorable mention all-league.

Others eligible to return include junior guards Sarah Balliett and Charlotte Hummell, junior wing player Sadie Lucas, sophomore forward Taylor Redman, freshman post player Addison Marston and freshman wing player Meredith Mrukowski.

"Trinity was outstanding (against Canal Winchester)," Krafty said. "There's a young core coming back. We've got to realize we played all of January and the first half of February starting one senior, three sophomores and a junior. The middle schools are solid. We're in good shape. We'll be back."

Gymnasts excited about future

The infusion of a strong freshman class changed the direction of the gymnastics team this winter.

After placing 16th at district a year ago, the Patriots emerged as one of central Ohio's stronger teams and placed sixth (132.775) in the district meet Feb. 22 at Worthington Kilbourne as the top three teams qualified for state.

"Overall, the season went well," coach Tara Mays said. "The girls really worked hard and improved. They helped each other in and outside of the gym. The girls were very much a family and I loved how they really were a strong unit."

All five of Liberty's all-around competitors at district are eligible to return.

Freshman Hailee Cobb was 11th (35.1) to miss advancing to state by three spots and just .725 of a point.

Freshmen Sam Penzone and Camryn Thompson also competed in the all-around, while the other two all-around competitors at district were junior Katie DiSalle and sophomore Kenna Henry.

Courtney Street, who was one of two seniors in the program along with Kathryn Edwards, and sophomore Beth Finn were other district competitors.

Liberty finished third (4-4) in the OCC-Buckeye behind champion Orange (8-0) but finished with a better all-around score at district than the Pioneers.

"Katie DiSalle will be our only senior next year," Mays said. "She'll be the team captain and is already showing a lot of leadership roles. As a team, we have five freshmen returning and three sophomores. We're a very young team and I'm very excited for our team next year."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek