As the Walnut Ridge boys basketball team was preparing to face Gahanna in a Division I district final March 7 at Ohio Dominican, Lions coach Tony Staib had a long list of compliments to describe the Scots.
"They're just huge, big, strong, aggressive and senior dominated," Staib said. "They have all the pieces."
Those traits helped the sixth-seeded Scots beat top-seeded Gahanna 52-47 to win their first district championship since 2015 when they were in Division II. With the victory, Walnut Ridge avenged a 53-50 loss to the Lions on Dec. 21.
Then in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican, many of those qualities for Walnut Ridge were neutralized in a 59-32 loss to Hilliard Bradley, as the Jaguars raced out to a 15-5 lead after the first quarter and extended their advantage to 30-17 by halftime and 41-25 by the end of the third quarter.
The Scots, who had beaten Bradley 45-44 on Jan. 4 in The Challenge at Pickerington North, finished 22-5 overall.
"(Bradley) just overall did a great job making it tough for us offensively and their effort was through the roof," said Scots coach Chuck Jefferson, whose team was tied with Cincinnati La Salle for ninth in the final state poll. "They did what they do best, which was defend. We didn't have one of our best games."
Keaton Norris had 19 points and Matt Allocco and A.J. Mirgon scored 14 and 13, respectively, for Bradley, which improved to 25-2. Senior forward VonCameron Davis had 13 points to lead Walnut Ridge.
The Scots and Bradley played before a sparse crowd. The next day, the OHSAA suspended the remaining winter tournaments because of the coronavirus.
Walnut Ridge had edged 17th-seeded Reynoldsburg 59-57 in a district semifinal March 4 before beating Gahanna, which was ranked third in the final state poll.
Also this season, the Scots went 13-1 in the City League-South Division to share the league championship with South. The teams had split their two contests, with Walnut Ridge winning 71-64 on Jan. 7 and losing 77-66 on Jan. 31.
The Scots held the tiebreaker to represent the City-South in the league championship game because South had competed in the contest more recently. On Feb. 15, Walnut Ridge beat Linden-McKinley 74-59 to win its first City title since 1971.
The Scots are losing seven seniors, including Davis, guard Qian Magwood and forward Kaveon Ross.
Davis averaged 26.9 points and was named first-team all-league and district Player of the Year. He is the City's all-time leading scorer with 2,201 career points.
Ross averaged 15 points and was first-team all-league and second-team all-district and Magwood averaged seven points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"This senior class put the Walnut Ridge program on the map in regards to getting us over the hump and winning championships," Jefferson said. "To win the City and to win the district is huge. We were one of the last 16 teams in the state (in Division I) and I couldn't be more proud of this group."
Expected to be the top returnee next season is junior guard Leon Douglas, who averaged 9.5 points and was honorable mention all-league.
Junior guard Daaron Brown (2.5 points per game), junior wing player Myles Garrett (6 ppg) and sophomore guard Zion Blevins (5 ppg) also were key contributors.
"We started Leon Douglas and Daaron Brown, who are both juniors, and we have some young sophomores that played pretty well," Jefferson said. "These seniors have set the tone for what it's going to take and we hope it continues to grow."