By Ben Stroup
Hayes did Orange a huge favor earlier in the week, upsetting first-place New Albany to help the Pioneers move back into a first-place tie atop the league standings.
Friday, though, Orange handled business itself, using a strong start, steady finish and solid defense throughout to roll to a 59-42 league win over visiting Hayes.
With three OCC games left — showdowns with Franklin Heights, Big Walnut and Worthington Kilbourne — the Pioneers (15-3, 9-2 OCC) control their own destiny.
They certainly controlled things early on against the Pacers (7-10, 4-7 OCC). Already up 18-11, Josh Smith hit a corner three to make it a 21-11 game with seven minutes left in the second quarter. Nathan Matthews hit two free throws on Orange’s ensuing possession and Grant Gossard hit a mid-range jumper shortly after that to balloon the edge to 25-11 with 4:45 left in the half.
“We were not ready to play,” Hayes coach Jordan Blackburn said. “And that’s completely on me. I have to find a way to have them ready to go from the tip each night. Orange played harder than us tonight. Our margin for error is small … hats off to them.”
A Cam Barron three-pointer made it 28-11 before Hayes started to find its form. Terin Kinsway scored on a tough drive to the hoop, converting the ensuing free throw to cap a three-point play, and Zach McIntire scored a pair from the stripe before the Pioneers’ Zack Stablein hit a floater to make it a 30-16 game at the break.
Hayes used an 8-0 run in the third to get within striking distance. Jake Bourget hit two free throws, Will Yoakum hit a three and McIntire scored inside before Kinsway split a pair from the stripe to pull the Pacers within nine, 32-23 with 4:37 left in the third.
A Stablein three helped Orange regain control, making it 39-25 late in the quarter before the Pioneers outscored the Pacers 20-15 in the fourth to seal the deal.
Colin Shepherd and Gossard led Orange with 15 and 13 points, respectively. Defense was as important to the win as the points, though, as the Pioneers held the Pacers’ top three scorers to 11-for-39 shooting.
Big Walnut 47, Mount Vernon 41
Austin Becker and Alex Kelso poured in 15 points apiece as the Golden Eagles used a solid four-quarter effort to notch a OCC-Capital Division win over the Yellow Jackets Friday in Sunbury.
Big Walnut (4-14, 2-9 OCC) outscored Mount Vernon (7-10, 5-6 OCC) in each of the first three quarters, building a 33-23 lead heading into the final eight minutes of action.
Zac Chucta was also solid in the win, finishing with 10 points.
Buckeye Valley 75, River Valley 74
Jesse Tomlinson finished with a team-high 24 points, none more important than the final three, as his buzzer-beating triple sent the first-place Barons to a thrilling MOAC win over the host Vikings Friday at River Valley.
Tomlinson added six steals, four assists and five rebounds to his stat line while Nick Hyatt and Grant Kelly were also solid for Buckeye Valley, finishing with 21 and 12 points, respectively.
Also: New Albany 66, Olentangy 59; Liberty 56, Westland 55, OT; Delaware Christian 64, Northside Christian 44.
Elizabeth Blackburn finished with 13 points, four assists and four steals, and Erin McCullough finished with a double-double as Delaware Christian rolled to a key 46-24 MOCAL win over host Northside Christian Friday night.
“I’m really happy with the way we played tonight,” DCS coach Jackie Boggs said. “Olivia House did a tremendous job defensively, holding one of the best girls in the league to 14 points. This win puts us in second in the league. We can’t win, but we will finish in sole possession of second place.”
The Eagles used a strong start to set the tone, taking a 13-8 lead after one and 26-14 edge into the intermission.
McCullough closed with 10 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and four blocks while House finished with seven points and three steals.
Liberty 57, Westland 28
The Patriots outscored the visiting Cougars 14-4 in the second quarter and 20-6 in the third to cruise to a lopsided OCC-Central Division win Friday in Powell.
Ten different players scored for Liberty (18-2, 11-1 OCC), including Bre Yashko and Lauren Hofer, who combined for 27 points in the Senior Night win.
Olentangy 73, New Albany 69
The Braves picked up their 26th straight OCC-Capital Division win Friday … but had to put in a few extra minutes to get it.
After visiting New Albany (11-7, 8-4 OCC) outscored Olentangy (16-2, 12-0 OCC) 22-17 in the fourth to force overtime, the Braves outscored the Eagles 6-2 in the extra session to cement the win — a win which clinched at least a share of another league championship.
Kelly Meade finished with a team-best 17 points while Olivia Margolies had 16, Allison Raiff chipped in 14 and Molly Delaney had 13 in the win.
Also: Mount Vernon 56, Big Walnut 45.
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.