The season for the Hilliard Bradley boys basketball team is in limbo after the Jaguars turned in what sixth-year coach Brett Norris called their best performance during his tenure.
Fifth-ranked Bradley routed ninth-ranked Walnut Ridge 59-32 in a Division I regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican to improve to 25-2 and advance to face Thomas Worthington or Westerville Central in a regional final March 14 at Ohio Dominican.
However, on March 12, the OHSAA announced that all remaining winter tournaments are postponed until further notice because of the coronavirus. That same day, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all Ohio schools would be closed for three weeks. Then on March 13, the OHSAA announced a mandatory no-contact period that runs from March 17 through April 5, meaning teams are prohibited from holding practice or meetings during that time.
"We met (March 12) when they told us we were suspended indefinitely," Norris said. "Initially, we planned to practice, but things have changed.
"We haven't had closure or ended it with those guys. We have been in contact and texting them, letting them know that we're thinking of them. It's unbelievable. If the season is over, this isn't the way you want it to happen."
Norris understands that drastic measures needed to be taken to control the pandemic, but that doesn't soften the blow.
"With the cancelation of the NCAA (men's and women's basketball) tournaments and the sporting world having stopped, in no way would I have questioned the decision," he said. "The reality is that it's difficult.
"It's tough. The hours and hours and years that you spend preparing for this, the way we have been playing and to not have that opportunity to see it through, it's heartbreaking."
Bradley anxiously awaits word on the fate of its season, needing one win to advance to the state tournament for the first time. The state tournament had been scheduled for Thursday, March 19, through Saturday, March 21, at Ohio State.
The Jaguars' regional semifinal was played in front of a limited crowd, a day after the OHSAA announced that it would restrict the number of fans in attendance to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Bradley raced out to a 15-5 lead after one quarter against Walnut Ridge thanks to eight points from A.J. Mirgon. Keaton Norris had nine points in the second quarter to help the Jaguars build a 30-17 lead. The Scots shot just 6-for-16 from the floor in the first half.
"I think we knew what we were getting into tonight," said Keaton Norris, whose team had lost to the Scots 45-44 on Jan. 4 in The Challenge at Pickerington North. "Coming off a loss, we knew we couldn't lose two in a row to these guys. That might have given us a little bit of an edge, and we were able to get it done."
The Jaguars turned up the intensity even more in the second half, holding the Scots scoreless in the first four minutes of both the third and fourth quarters, and Bradley went on a 19-0 run lasting 5 minutes, 20 seconds to open a 56-25 lead with 3:20 left in the fourth.
"They just overall did a great job of making it tough for us offensively," said Walnut Ridge coach Chuck Jefferson, whose team entered the contest averaging 69.5 points per game. "Their effort was through the roof and you've got to tilt your hat to the entire Hilliard Bradley program. It's a high-class program."
Norris led Bradley with 19 points, including three 3-pointers. Matt Allocco added 14 points and Mirgon scored 13.
VonCameron Davis scored 13 points to lead Walnut Ridge, which finished 22-5.
"If that's the last game we play, at least we won and we played so well," coach Norris said. "Especially against an opponent like, that's the best we have played in six years as a team. It was a great representation of what we could do as a team."