REYNOLDSBURG – The Lady Raiders had a chance at revenge against division leader Pickerington Central, who they lost to in overtime 56-50 on the road on December 22nd, and needed a win in the Battle of 256 to deny their arch rivals an outright OCC-Ohio crown to stay in the division race with one other regular season game remaining in the division.
After the final buzzer sounded on Friday February 2nd, Reynoldsburg remarkably found themselves in control of their own destiny for at least a share of the division title.
Sophomore guard Kyria Walker scored 13 of the team’s 17 third-quarter points to help overcome a once eight-point deficit for the Lady Raiders (15-5, 8-1) and put them ahead for good. The Lady Tigers (17-2, 8-1) would close the gap late in the 4th quarter and had a chance to tie the game with 30 seconds to go, but the shot did not fall and Reynoldsburg closed the game out at the free throw line for a huge 55-50 home victory.
“It’s a good program win,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said after the game. “[Pickerington Central] has a lot of talent and they were the 23rd-ranked team in the country going into the night. I thought we wanted it more, and I’m just really pleased with our kids.”
After Walker hit a three pointer to open the game’s scoring, Pickerington Central would reel off the next six points in just under a minute to take a 6-3 lead over Reynoldsburg with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Reynoldsburg would then score eight unanswered points of their own, though, with Walker and senior Mackenzie Davis each hitting from downtown and senior Jalynda Salley scoring in the post to give the home team a 11-6 lead just over two minutes later. But Pickerington Central would close the quarter an an 8-2 run to give them a 14-13 lead after one quarter.
Junior Uju Ezeudu would hit two free throws early in the second quarter to give Reynoldsburg the lead, but they would go cold for roughly four minutes after that. Pickerington Central would score nine unanswered points in the next three minutes to force a Reynoldsburg timeout with 4:44 left in the second quarter and the home team trailing 23-15: their biggest deficit of the night. A big bucket-and-one by Ezeudu in the paint a minute later would break the scoring drought, and Reynoldsburg would get within two with 1:54 left in the period before Pickerington Central scored the final four points of the half to take a 30-24 lead at the break.
“We had talked before the game that, if we got up ten or down ten early, do not panic; we have to play all 32 minutes to win these games,” coach Purtell would go on to say. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
After Davis split a pair of free throws coming out of the locker room, Walker would put on a clinic in the third quarter. With the Lady Raiders locking down on defense, Walker would respond at the other end with a layup, two three-pointers, and a split pair of free throws on consecutive possessions as part of a 10-0 run to put the home team ahead 34-30 halfway into the period. Pickerington Central would score from downtown with under two minutes left in the quarter for its first points of the period to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to one. But Walker would answer with a layup and two free throws to close out the quarter, and a three-pointer by Malaysia Miller in between would give Reynoldsburg a 41-35 lead going into the final eight minutes of regulation.
Both teams would trade buckets early in the fourth quarter, but Reynoldsburg had a good cushion being up 46-39 with 4:21 to go thanks to two free throws by Ezeudu and four quick points by senior Breanna Johnson. Pickerington Central would then score off of a couple of key turnover as part of a 9-3 run to cut the home team’s lead to one not even two minutes later to set up what would be another wild finish in the Battle of 256.
With the Raiders up 49-48, Pickerington Central would eventually miss a short jumper and would be whistled for an offensive foul that sent Walker to the free throw line. She would sink both free throws with 1:40 to go to extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to three, but the visitors would score off of another Reynoldsburg turnover to get within 51-50 just 30 seconds later. After Reynoldsburg called a timeout, Ezeudu would catch a long inbound pass and score on an easy layup to put the home team up 53-50 with 50.6 to go. Pickerington Central would miss three shots from behind the arc in the final minute of the game, and Reynoldsburg would add a couple of free throws from there to ice the game and secure the victory.
Walker would finish with a team-high 23 points en route to snapping Pickerington Central’s 33-game division game win streak and the Lady Raiders emerging victorious in the Battle of 256 for the first time in four years.
“Kyria [Walker] has worked as hard as anybody in the offseason,” coach Purtell said about the sophomore guard. “She’s lost weight, she’s worked on her shot, and she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. I just felt like with her outside, our kids are playing their roles just like they are supposed to.”
And after the team’s performance on Friday night, the Lady Raiders just need to win at Pickerington North next Friday night to secure at least a share of the division crown.
“If you’re good enough, you’ll win league championships,” coach Purtell would go on to say. “We play to win in the tournament and that’s what we want. I think we’re good enough, and should we win next week, I’ll be really happy. We’ll be OCC champs and its been a while, so it would mean a lot for our program to get that and get some momentum moving forward in the tournament.”