PICKERINGTON – The seniors on the Lady Raiders have had quite a run in their Reynoldsburg careers, securing titles at the District level, Regional level, and making an appearance in the State semifinals. The team’s biggest goal year in and year out has always been that big picture: the postseason, and they have had a lot of success over the years in the playoffs thanks to loaded regular-season schedules both inside and outside of their conference to prepare them for deep tournament runs. Reynoldsburg particularly also has the privilege of playing in the loaded OCC-Ohio division, where three of its teams (including the Lady Raiders) ended up seeded in the Top 10 of their upcoming district playoff tournament bracket. The Lady Raiders, however, have not won or shared a division title in four years going into their division finale at Pickerington North on Friday February 9th.
But after the buzzer sounded on Friday night, they were finally able to add that to their long growing list of crowning achievements over that span.
With the Lady Raiders (16-5, 9-1) leading by single digits late in the opening quarter, senior Jalynda Salley came off the bench and scored six of her team-high 20 points before the period ended to kick off a huge scoring run for Reynoldsburg. They would score 16 unanswered points and go on a 37-8 run from there to put the game out of reach at Pickerington North, with the Lady Raiders eventually clinching a 69-39 victory and a share of their first OCC-Ohio division title since the 2013-14 regular season.
“I just felt like I took my time, slowed down, didn’t really think about my shot, and I felt like that helped me finish better than I usually do,” Salley said of her performance after the game. “I think as a team, we are getting better as in sharing the ball and communicating better. There is a lot of talk about us not going very far in the tournament, but I feel that we let that motivate us more than bring us down. Since we have that big win against Pickerington [Central] and now the OCC [division title], we kind of have an edge on everybody else and I feel we have a lot more chemistry now.”
“This really means a lot, because it took four years for us to actually achieve that [division title] and I feel like we worked really hard to even get this far, so it’s just wonderful.”
The Lady Raiders would score the first nine points of the game at Pickerington North and would never trail, with junior Uju Ezeudu scoring 4 of her 12 total points not even halfway into the opening period, and fellow juniors Breanna Johnson and Destiny Fields hitting from downtown and scoring on a layup, respectively. Pickerington North would get going early with a 7-2 run shortly after that to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to four with 3:28 left in the opening quarter. After sophomore Kyria Walker hit two free throws, Salley would check in for Reynoldsburg and would score in the post, but Pickerington North would hit from downtown to make it 15-10 Reynoldsburg with 2:19 left in the 1st quarter.
Then the Lady Raiders really got going.
Pickerington North would struggle offensively while the Lady Raiders dominated defensively and especially in transition. Salley would score baskets on three consecutive possessions as part of a 16-0 Reynoldsburg scoring run, and Pickerington North did not score again until a basket-and-one play made it 31-13 Reynoldsburg with 2:02 left in the 2nd quarter. Salley would then quickly answer and then score again in the post after an offensive rebound, and fellow senior Mackenzie Davis would hit a deep three as time expired in the first half to put Reynoldsburg at a 38-15 halftime lead and sixteen minutes away from their eventual division crown.
“We always focus more on the tournament than the OCC, but it feels really nice to finally win it,” Davis would say after the game of the division title. “We’re going to shock a lot of people [in the tournament], because they’re not expecting us to come out strong like we have been in the last couple of years, so it should be a pretty good experience.”
The Lady Raiders did not show any signs of letting up coming out of the locker room either. They would start the 3rd quarter on a 14-3 run to make it 52-18 Reynoldsburg with 3:00 left in the period before both teams traded buckets the rest of the way en route to the Lady Raiders’ 69-39 victory.
“I told our guards at halftime that they found the open person all the time and we passed the ball extremely well,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said after the game of the big victory. “We defended great, our post Uju [Ezeudu] and Jalynda [Salley] were just awesome and they dominated. I just think we played together really well, got enough stops, and made enough shots to go on that nice little run.”
Arch-rival Pickerington Central (20-2, 9-1) shared the division title with the Lady Raiders after winning big at Grove City Friday night. Both Reynoldsburg and the Lady Tigers split their two regular-season meetings with each team winning at home, but the Lady Raiders’ 55-50 home win over Pickerington Central a week prior put them in control of their own destiny to at least share the division title by winning at Pickerington North on Friday night. Even more, the recent win over Pickerington Central in particular looks even better for Reynoldsburg, as the Lady Tigers decisively knocked off previously undefeated Newark (21-1, 10-0) by a score of 60-38 not even 24 hours later. Both of these teams had either won or shared OCC-Ohio division titles over Reynoldsburg in each of the last four seasons, and have each also had huge success in the postseason as of recently.
The Lady Raiders lost at home 53-32 just over two months ago to that same Newark team, who is the top seed in the upcoming district tournament, but they have been getting better and better since then. And as Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell and his players have constantly mentioned, the postseason has always been the team’s biggest focus year in and year out.
But he and his players are certainly happy about capturing that elusive division title and providing them with even more momentum towards their next postseason journey.
“We’re playing well and this is a good time of the year to play well,” Purtell said after the game. “We’ve been lucky enough to peak at the right time; we haven’t gotten to the state finals yet but we’ve gotten to the state semifinals three times. We’ve won 7 district titles in the last 8 years. But if you’re good enough, you’re going to win the league, which we were. We could have almost won it outright, but we lost a tough overtime game [at Pickerington Central].”
But seniors Salley and Davis are finally OCC-Ohio champions in their final regular season, and their coach is certainly happy about that along with what they have contributed to the Lady Raiders in general.
“I’m just happy for our kids; the seniors got to be league champs and it’s pretty special,” Purtell would go on to say. “[Jalynda Salley and Mackenzie Davis] have won a lot of games, and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout their four years. I’m appreciative of what they’ve done for our program and the way that they care about their teammates and each other.”
“I can’t say enough about those two seniors.”