Wildcats hold off Patriots for district title


Olentangy Liberty girls basketball coach Tom Waterwash kept waiting for the big run that would lift his team to its second district championship.

But the Patriots couldn’t climb out of an 11-point hole in the second half and fell 50-40 to Westerville South in a Division I district title game on Saturday at Ohio Dominican University’s Alumni Hall.

“We were right there – 34-32 (in the fourth quarter),” he said. “It felt like a couple of times we were going to go on a run. Throughout the year, against some really good teams, we’ve gone on some nice runs. To (South’s) credit, they either hit a free throw or got a turnover. That’s a really good team.”

Tamara Ortiz scored the first eight points and Zoe Guice scored the last five during a 13-0 run in the third quarter that ultimately lifted the fifth-seeded Wildcats (24-2) to their third title overall and first since winning consecutive ones in 2018 and 19.

“First and foremost, Liberty is a fantastic team,” South coach Jermaine Guice said. “They came out and gave us everything we could handle. We were here last year and didn’t get it done. So, we came out and competed and played tough. We had some things that we wanted to prove and we did it today.”

Ortiz, held to two points in the first half, finished with 15 points, eight steals, six rebounds and a pair of assists to lead South, which advances to play Marysville in a regional semifinal Tuesday at Westerville North. The regional tournament was moved from South to North after the Wildcats advanced.

“Ortiz is a fantastic guard,” Waterwash said. “She’s one of the best around because she can do everything. She can score it and she plays hard defensively.”

Guice, who also had a steal and an assist during the run, added 12 points, three helpers and a pair of steals.

Gigi Bower hit consecutive 3-pointers and Claire Mikola added a pair of free throws to help Liberty whittle the lead down to 34-32 in the fourth quarter.

But some of the toughest lessons are learned in defeat. Bower was charged with two technical fouls and ejected. South made four of six free throws to extend the lead again and the Patriots couldn’t recover.

“She’s just a kid – I’m not making excuses,” Waterwash said. “I’m not going to stand here and say that that cost us (the game) because she’s 17 years old.”

Third-seeded Liberty (23-3), which took a 19-17 lead on a Mikola three early in the third quarter, faced foul trouble most of the game. Mikola had three fouls by halftime and Emma Karagheuzoff and Ryan Chapman were tagged with two apiece.

Karagheuzoff, however, proved to be a spark for the Patriots despite the foul trouble. She forced a pair of turnovers in the second quarter – one on a 5-second call and the other on an offensive foul.

Karagheuzoff was Liberty’s most reliable shooter, knocking down four 3-pointers on her way to a team-high 14 points.

“We have a couple of kids that get a lot of the attention … and deserve it,” Waterwash said. “But we have multiple kids that are really good basketball players. It’s not a surprise for us when she does that. She’s our best defender. Claire Mikola gets a lot of attention on defense and she deserves it because she’s a menace. But Emma is off the charts in everything she does. She’s such a team player. She doesn’t ask for credit and she doesn’t want credit.”

Mikola added 11 points and five rebounds, Bower had eight points, four boards and a pair of steals, Addison Marston had 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks and Chapman had five rebounds and three assists for Liberty.

Deziah Dupree scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half, helping the Wildcats to a 17-16 lead at the break. Nelia Guice added nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals for South.

“(Liberty) has great players that can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor,” Guice said. “They competed on every possession. We stayed fast, kept to the grind and tried to do the things that we’re capable of doing and we were able to get the victory.”

Pickerington Central faces Dublin Coffman in the other regional semifinal on Tuesday.

No posts to display