Multiple Teams · Wilmington, DE holiday tournament turned Lady Raiders’ 2018-19 season around


REYNOLDSBURG, OH – When classes are not in session as a result of holiday breaks in late December, a lot of high school basketball teams across the country opt to play in holiday tournaments at some point before classes resume in January. These teams may play in as many as two or three games in as many days to stay fresh, build momentum, and build confidence towards what they hope to be bigger second halves of their regular seasons.

Over the 2018 holiday season, some of Central Ohio’s programs competed in these tournaments close to home to fulfill these goals, while others travelled much further away. The Reynoldsburg Boys Basketball squad, for example, competed in the Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational at Thomas Worthington High School: only about a 25-mile drive from their home gym at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School. The Raiders would win both of their games in as many days there to go into the 2019 calendar year on a good note. While they had a good start to December, those two wins began a stretch of Reynoldsburg Boys Basketball winning 12 of their last 15 games to close out their 2018-19 regular season with a 17-5 overall record.

But these tournaments are more than just opportunities for basketball teams stay fresh and compete over holiday break; they are put together for good causes and to bring awareness to things much bigger than basketball.

The Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational, for example, was established in honor of former Thomas Worthington teacher and head baseball coach, Stephen Gussler, who passed away in May 2014 after a six-year fight with inoperable colon and rectal cancer. In his final two seasons, Gussler led his Cardinals baseball team to back-to-back district championships in 2012 and 2013, a 46-14 combined record in those two seasons, and he received the 2013 Division I Coach of the Year award. However, even despite the obstacles he faced along the way, Gussler most importantly remained positive, continued to do what he loved inside and outside of the classroom, and spread awareness of the dangers of the disease he courageously fought for six years in hopes that no one else would go through what he went through.

The aforementioned late-December basketball tournament bearing his name was first organized in December 2016, and the Raiders have competed in all three of the annual editions of this event at Thomas Worthington High School. (Read more about Stephen Gussler here in this Columbus Dispatch article: https://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/sports/2014/05/27/0527-stephen-gussler-dies.html)

 

Over the December 2018 Winter Break, the Reynoldsburg Boys Basketball team competed in the 3rd annual Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational at Thomas Worthington High School. This holiday Boys Basketball tournament was organized in honor of former Thomas Worthington teacher and baseball coach Stephen Gussler, who passed away in 2014, to further spread his message and the awareness of the dangers of colon and rectal cancer. (Photo: Tracy Broaddus)

The Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders Girls Basketball team also competed in another holiday tournament this past holiday break: one that was centered on multiple great causes. However, they traveled a little further than the Boys did.

But when it was all said and done, the Lady Raiders would indeed build momentum and confidence towards what ended up being a huge second half of their regular season.

They would travel 450 miles to the East Coast and ended up in Wilmington, DE: a city about 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia and just across the Delaware River from the southern portion of New Jersey. The Lady Raiders would play three games in as many days there from December 27-29, 2018 in the 2018 Diamond State Classic. This would be the 28th year of the aforementioned event, and their mission statement is to not only highlight Girls Basketball in the state of Delaware, but to aid Delaware charities.

The Diamond State Classic Foundation and corresponding holiday tournament has been in existence since 1991, and Reynoldsburg was one of 240 teams overall to have competed in the annual editions of this tournament since it first took place.

 

The Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders Girls Basketball squad traveled to Wilmington, DE over the December 2018 holiday break, and competed in the 28th annual Diamond State Classic: a holiday basketball tournament focused on showcasing Girls Basketball and adding charities in the state of Delaware.

But just like the Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational the Boys played in, the Diamond State Classic the Lady Raiders participated in is much more than a basketball tournament.

Over the years, the Diamond State Classic Foundation has donated $1.5 million to support college scholarships, the Special Olympics of Delaware, the B+ Foundation (https://bepositive.org/), along with a multitude of other charities. The B+ Foundation, which is based in Wilmington, was founded by Joe McDonough in honor of his son, Andrew, who passed away at the age of 14 in July 2007: 167 days after being diagnosed with leukemia.

His blood type was B+ (B Positive), which his dad said “was fitting since that is how his son lived,” and that is where the “Be Positive” name of the B+ Foundation came from.

The B+ Foundation raises money towards research in an effort to find a cure for childhood cancer, helps families of kids with cancer nationwide, and Joe McDonough goes around the country to speak to groups nationwide and spread the foundation’s message to live like his son did and make the most of each day. Money raised by the Diamond State Classic Foundation over the course of the holiday tournament also goes towards the B+ Foundation and many other local charities.

Charities added by the Diamond State Classic include the Wilmington-based B+ Foundation, which raises money towards finding a cure for childhood cancer, and the Special Olympics Delaware. Representatives of Reynoldsburg and Elizabeth Seton (MD), the Lady Raiders’ first-round opponent, were at center court for the tournament’s opening ceremony.

At the 2018 Diamond State Classic, the Lady Raiders played in the St. Francis Healthcare Cup: one of five tournaments over the course of the event. Reynoldsburg’s tournament bracket was named for Wilmington’s own St. Francis Healthcare Hospital, which was founded by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia in 1924.

The St. Francis Healthcare Cup comprised of the following eight schools and teams listed by name, city, and mascot:

-Conrad Schools of Science (Wilmington, DE- Redwolves)

-Elizabeth Seton High School (Bladensburg, MD- Roadrunners)*

-Monsignor Scanlan High School (New York, NY- Crusaders)

-Mount Lebanon High School (Mt. Lebanon, PA- Blue Devils)*

-Narbonne High School (Los Angeles, CA- Gauchos)*

-Ossining High School (Ossining, NY- Pride)

-Redondo Union High School (Redondo Beach, CA- Sea Hawks)

-Reynoldsburg High School (Reynoldsburg, OH- Raiders)

*Opponents of Reynoldsburg at the 2018 Diamond State Classic St. Francis Healthcare Cup from December 27-29, 2018.

Each of the 20 Girls Basketball teams that participated in the 2018 Diamond State Classic had at least one T-shirt representing their program hanging down from the ceiling of the entrance of the St. E Center. Reynoldsburg had two of them on this wonderful design (both on the second row from the top).

The defending OCC-Ohio champion Lady Raiders, who had lost to Gahanna-Lincoln in overtime in the District Finals to end last season, had won District Championships in an unbelievable seven of their previous nine seasons under 17th-year head coach Jack Purtell. In 2018-19, he and his Lady Raiders squad would travel to Wilmington, DE with a 4-4 record after splitting their first eight regular season games of the year. After a close loss to Elizabeth Seton High School on December 27th, 2018 in the first game of the 2018 Diamond State Classic, the Lady Raiders would fall to 4-5 and find themselves in big trouble just before the first half of their regular season came to a close, but ended up bouncing back with two large victories in their remaining games of the tournament to close out their trip on the highest of notes.

But for this Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders squad, this trip was a valuable experience that helped bring them closer together, improve their team chemistry, and stay fresh in addition to playing for amazing charities and causes.

20 total Girls Basketball teams from high schools all across the country, including Reynoldsburg High School, not only participated in the 2018 Diamond State Classic to compete for trophies. Their participation helped contribute to the causes and charities passionately promoted by the Diamond State Classic Foundation.

“I did think the trip was a turning point,” said Purtell of the trip. “Teambuilding is as big a part of our holiday trips as with things we do in the summer. I think it’s pretty easy when they care about each other, it’s easier for them to dive on the floor for each other and get rebounds for one another. I think as a team, after the first game [at the 2018 Diamond State Classic], I was worried that we wouldn’t win a game, because the competition was so good there. But the girls just stepped up and have really played well and played hard. It kind of carried over when we came back.”

Oh, it carried over all right.

As a matter of fact, after losing that first game against Elizabeth Seton in the 2018 Diamond State Classic, the Lady Raiders would end up bouncing back by winning 12 of their final 13 regular season contests overall. This included their two remaining games against Mount Lebanon (PA) and Narbonne (CA) to close out this holiday tournament.

Their only loss? An 8-point road defeat in a rematch at arch-rival Pickerington Central: the top-ranked Division I Girls team in the state of Ohio, defending state champion, and the #1-seed in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Girls Basketball Tournament.

For comparison purposes, the Lady Raiders lost by 24 points at home to these same Lady Tigers not even a week prior to the 2018 Diamond State Classic. Just under two months later, the Lady Raiders would cap off what ended up being a 16-6 regular season record with a 50-39 home win over Tri-Valley on Senior Night, and would go into the postseason as a contender for a district title and beyond as the #5-seed out of 47 Division I Girls Basketball teams in Central Ohio.

Including the Lady Raiders, Girls Basketball teams from six different states alone competed in the eight-team Saint Francis Healthcare Cup at the 2018 Diamond State Classic over the course of three days. Reynoldsburg would fall by a score of 56-49 in the tournament’s opening game against Elizabeth Seton (MD), dropping the Lady Raiders to a 4-5 overall record. But the Lady Raiders would bounce back with two straight wins against Mt. Lebanon (PA) and Narbonne (CA) to start a streak of 12 wins in 13 games to close out their regular season.

In fact, on Friday 2/15/2019, the Lady Raiders would have one of the more dominating first-round performances of the playoffs amongst Division I teams in Central Ohio. While some other teams appeared to be in big trouble early before ultimately pulling away for victories and slamming the door on potential opening-round upsets, Reynoldsburg would leave absolutely no doubt and race to a 44-6 halftime lead in their first-round postseason contest against #37-seed Central Crossing. This would result in a running clock in the second half, and the Lady Raiders would win that game by a score of 56-18 and advance to the second round.

Make that 13 of 14 games now won for this red-hot Lady Raiders squad, who went from a 4-5 record in late December to now being three wins away from win number 20 and their eighth district title in ten seasons.

But while the Lady Raiders’ had early losses to some of Central Ohio’s and the state’s top teams, given where Reynoldsburg was prior to the Diamond State Classic and where they are now, as it will be outlined in this article with some recaps of key wins in between, this season for the Lady Raiders has been nothing short of exciting, fun, magical, and remarkable.

A HEARTBREAKING END TO LAST SEASON:

This 2018-19 campaign actually seemed to begin after what seemed like an abrupt conclusion to a 2017-18 season that saw Reynoldsburg share what ended up being its seniors’ first OCC-Ohio division title. The Lady Raiders would share this crown with eventual state champion and arch-rival Pickerington Central, and they would actually snap the Lady Tigers’ 33-game division win streak in the process with a 55-50 home win on 2/2/2018.

(And, one year later, Pickerington Central has not lost a division game since losing to the Lady Raiders back in February 2018, or a game against any team from the state of Ohio for that matter.)

The Lady Raiders defeated eventual 2018 and defending state champion and arch-rival Pickerington Central at home on February 2nd, 2018 on the way to a share of the OCC-Ohio division title in 2017-18, snapping the Lady Tigers’ 33-game division win streak. Pickerington Central would go a perfect 10-0 in the OCC-Ohio on the way to another division crown in 2018-19, including two wins against Reynoldsburg.

But a senior class that won 10 postseason games combined in the previous two seasons alone, including a Central Ohio regional championship in 2015-16 on the way to the program’s most recent Final Four appearance plus three more wins in 2017-18, would be upset four games into last season’s postseason run.

That Lady Raiders squad would fall in overtime by a score of 54-52 against division foe Gahanna-Lincoln on March 3rd, 2018 in the District Finals at Ohio Dominican University. They would finish last year with a 20-6 record overall, and a 9-1 record in the OCC-Ohio division during the regular season. However, even despite Reynoldsburg sweeping division foe Gahanna-Lincoln on the way to a share of the OCC-Ohio division title, the Lady Raiders only won both of their regular-season meetings by single digits. Unfortunately, the third time was the charm for Gahanna-Lincoln and in the postseason nonetheless, and the Lady Raiders would therefore be denied what would have been an astounding eight district titles in nine seasons.

Reynoldsburg freshman post Alexia Mobley stands at 6’ 2” and is the tallest member of the 2018-19 squad. (And as home fans hear on Reynoldsburg’s PA system when starting lineups are read, you indeed read/heard that right: “She’s a freshman.”)

Mobley was in attendance at the district title game against Gahanna-Lincoln and was in the eighth grade at the time, but she was really saddened by the loss given the bond she already had with the players on that team.

“I was there and I felt like I was a part of that team,” said Mobley of that game. “I was playing with them in the summers and already knew them, so we already had relationships. So I kind of got emotional and really got teary-eyed. They were sad, too. It was tough. What really was touching was that, when that game was over, I talked to them afterwards. I saw [Reynoldsburg post Uju Ezeudu], and she took me aside and said ‘We better win at this time next year when you come,’ and that was really a touching moment for me. I really took that to heart.”

OCC-Ohio division foe Gahanna-Lincoln would upset Reynoldsburg in the 2018 District Finals at Ohio Dominican University with a 54-52 overtime victory over the Lady Raiders on March 3rd, 2018. Reynoldsburg would finish their 2017-18 season with a 20-6 overall record as a result, but this heartbreaking outcome has been a huge motivator for the Lady Raiders in 2018-19.

To start this season, as a freshman, Mobley was obviously a first-time high school player at the varsity level. Even more, she joined a Lady Raiders that that already had four players who each had major playing time during the previous seasons to round out what ended up being Reynoldsburg’s 2018-19 starting five players: Mobley, senior post Uju Ezeudu, senior guard Destiny Fields, senior guard Bre Johnson, and junior guard Kyria Walker.

“I think it’s just about finding your place,” Mobley would say about joining a team with not only a lot of experienced players, but one of the most successful programs in the state of Ohio. “That’s basically what the season has been about. Everybody else has already been starters, and for me to come in, I have to find out where I fit into the team like a puzzle.”

Eventually, while she has found more and more opportunities to score as the season has progressed, Mobley’s role on both sides of the court would particularly result in her being the team’s leading rebounder at the end of the regular season: just a handful of rebounds ahead of Ezeudu. Both Mobley and Ezeudu ended the regular season with just over 200 total rebounds to cap off a strong presence by both of them in the paint, which most importantly resulted in points for the Lady Raiders on either end of the floor.

“Offensively, I think it’s about getting offensive rebounds,” Mobley would say of her role. “The way the offense is set up, it’s mostly towards [our main scorer Uju Ezeudu]. If I get the ball in high post, she’s in perfect position and she knows how to score. But she always helps me out and finds a way for me to get into it. We have a really good chemistry and she really encourages me. Rebounding is just my thing, and I feel my part is about doing stuff like cutting, setting screens. Defensively, [it has been about] guarding the ball on the perimeter and on the inside, and giving defensive rebounds.”

Reynoldsburg 6’ 2” freshman post Alexia Mobley (#23) jumps for the opening tip in the Lady Raiders’ contest at Newark on December 18th, 2018. She would be the team’s leading rebounder in the 2018-19 regular season after grabbing an average of 9.4 rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-tall Ezeudu, who was a junior in last season’s overtime loss to Gahanna-Lincoln in the District Finals, led the Lady Raiders with 14 points in that contest. The fourth-year Lady Raiders player and University of Denver bound senior has emerged as the team’s go-to scorer in 2018-19 (with 18.8 PPG and 9.1 RPG at the end of the regular season) one season after also being the team’s leading scorer in 2017-18, when she averaged a double-double (15.3 PPG, 10 RPG overall).

Ezeudu was also the team’s leading rebounder in 2016-17, when she averaged 10.1 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. As a freshman in her first varsity season, she averaged 5.7 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game overall. This included an 8-point, 10-rebound performance in the Lady Raiders’ 58-48 state semifinal loss against eventual 2016 state champion Wadsworth on March 11th, 2016.

Simply put, Ezeudu has had an extremely successful career at Reynoldsburg High School, to say the least, and she has continued to improve along the way.

In 2018-19, while Ezeudu and Mobley would both come a rebound or two per game short of a pair of double-doubles in terms of average points and rebounds in the regular season, they would most importantly blossom into a dangerous duo for their opponents particularly in the paint, especially as their impressive regular season progressed.

Reynoldsburg senior post and fourth-year player Uju Ezeudu (#24) currently sits at 1,260 career points for the Lady Raiders as of 2/16/2019, and has averaged double figures in points scored this season plus her previous two seasons. She led the team by scoring an average 18.8 points per game in the 2018-19 regular season and was also very close behind Mobley on the boards, hauling in an average of 9.1 rebounds per game. Ezeudu received an MVP award (pictured above) for her performance at the 2018 Diamond State Classic.

However, it took just about half of the 2018-19 regular season for things to get going for Reynoldsburg.

EARLY GAMES OF THE 2018-19 REGULAR SEASON:

The Lady Raiders would open up their 2018-19 campaign on 11/23/2018 with a close 71-64 home loss against a talented Dublin Coffman team also coming off of a District Finals loss last season. In 2017-18, that Lady Rocks team would also fall in their district title game at Ohio Dominican University by a score of 68-58 against eventual regional runner-up Westerville South about six hours after Reynoldsburg lost to Gahanna-Lincoln on the same floor. In both teams’ next games to open up the new season, Ezeudu would lead all Reynoldsburg scorers with a double-double: 24 points and 11 rebounds, in Reynoldsburg’s loss to open up her senior season.

Following their loss against Dublin Coffman, the Lady Raiders would bounce back with a 63-53 home win against Eastmoor Academy five days later, where Ezeudu would have another double-double consisting of 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Burg. Reynoldsburg then would secure a 58-40 win against Lancaster on 12/4/2018 to improve the Lady Raiders to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio division. And in what was her division debut against the Lady Gales, Mobley would score a season-high 19 points and made eight of her final nine shots. She also had 6 rebounds, and Ezeudu would add 18 points and 7 rebounds in Reynoldsburg’s victory.

Three nights later, the Lady Raiders would then encounter the same Gahanna-Lincoln team that defeated them in last year’s district title game, and the Lady Lions would again emerge victorious over Reynoldsburg on 12/7/2018. Despite 35 points and 11 rebounds from Ezeudu, the Lady Raiders would fall by a score of 67-55 on the road to fall to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio division.

In that aforementioned District Finals game loss to Gahanna-Lincoln last season, Reynoldsburg junior guard Kyria Walker, one of the Lady Raider’s go-to scorers in the backcourt, scored only six points overall in that game after being held scoreless in the first half. She would only make one field goal overall (and from downtown) early in the 3rd quarter of that game.

“Losing that [district finals] game really hurt everybody,” said Walker of last season’s postseason loss. “We were broken. I think after that, we said that we can’t lose again. Then us losing to them at their home [on 12/7/2018] really hit hard. [Uju Ezeudu] really came up big for us with her 35-point game, and I really felt like we didn’t help her. She really put us on her back that night, but we all have to step up for her. We just can’t have her doing everything for us; we are a team, and we have to work together.”

Walker, who missed all four of her three-point attempts in the Lady Raiders’ loss to Dublin Coffman, was only held to 4 points against the Lady Lions in their December 2018 rematch and missed her lone attempt from downtown in this contest. But she would eventually find her groove, bounce back, and step up in a big way later on in December and the rest of the regular season. Following that loss to Gahanna-Lincoln, the Lady Raiders would bounce back with 60-40 and 59-17 victories against Canal Winchester and Grove City, respectively, to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the division.

In their win at Grove City, Mobley would record her first career double-double: scoring 12 points and securing 11 rebounds for the Burg.

And while Ezeudu would continue her dominating start to the year with 25 points and 10 rebounds versus Canal Winchester: her fourth double-double in five games to open the 2018-19 regular season, Walker would particularly make three of her six three-point attempts on the way to 14 points overall in this game for her first double-digit scoring output of the new season. This would begin a stretch of 11.6 points per game scored on average for Walker over the rest of the regular season, where she made 41% of her three-point attempts overall and connected on two or more attempts from downtown in 16 straight games.

However, the Lady Raiders would then travel to play a Newark team that finished 29-2 last season on the way to a district title, and Reynoldsburg would fall by a score of 69-56. Reynoldsburg would then lose big at home to defending state champion and arch-rival Pickerington Central by a score of 71-47 on Friday 12/21/2018, dropping the Lady Raiders to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Ohio division after their second straight double-digit loss. Ezeudu would again have double-double performances in these losses: 16 points and 12 rebounds at Newark, and 12 points and 13 rebounds against Pickerington Central.

Coming off of a 69-56 loss at Newark three nights prior, the Lady Raiders would lose 71-47 at home on December 21st, 2018 to defending state champion and arch-rival Pickerington Central, the top-ranked Division I team in the entire state of Ohio. This would drop Reynoldsburg to a 4-4 record prior to their trip to Wilmington, DE. Pickerington Central and Newark would go on the become the #1 and #2-seeded teams, respectively, in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Girls Basketball Tournament. Reynoldsburg would ultimately secure the #5-seed.

While there is certainly no shame in losses to Dublin Coffman, Newark, and Pickerington Central, who each ended up finishing their regular seasons with an unbelievable combined record of 65-6, along with their second consecutive defeat to a talented Gahanna-Lincoln going back to the playoffs last year, this certainly was uncharted territory for Reynoldsburg after three consecutive 20+ win seasons for its senior class.

“We purposely made our schedule a little tougher, because we had four starters back from a 20-win team with a good freshman coming in and a couple of good sophomores in there,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said of what ended up being an eventual 4-5 start for his team. “We’ve lost some tough games. We’ve lost to Dublin Coffman who is really good, and we lost to Newark and Pickerington Central. [Elizabeth Seton] from Maryland was really good, but we didn’t really play well at Gahanna-Lincoln. That was one we probably should have won.”

They would have a golden opportunity for redemption against the Lady Lions once the calendar turned to 2019, but before that, the Lady Raiders squad took a 450-mile trip to Wilmington, DE following the holidays.

And once this trip began for a Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders team sitting at an even record coming off of a 24-point home loss to their arch-rivals, one could argue that this was the biggest turning point for their 2018-19 season.

THE 2018 DIAMOND STATE CLASSIC:

A charter bus with a setup that looked like a giant living room plus the aforementioned 450-mile trip over to the East Coast was a perfect combination for this team. The Lady Raiders had plenty of time throughout the roughly 900-mile round trip alone, with one 450-mile trip before and one 450-mile trip after their slate of games at the 2018 Diamond State Classic, to therefore further bond. Opportunities like this would be absolutely beneficial for improving their team chemistry overall, even for an already-close Lady Raiders squad that had four returning players alone who each played with each other during their successful previous seasons.

In 2018-19, this trip certainly helped improve the team chemistry for Reynoldsburg even more as a result, which in turn translated to success on the basketball court in the state of Delaware.

And these three games in three consecutive days between December 27-29, 2018 at the St. E Center of St. Elizabeth High School would be absolutely critical for the Lady Raiders as a result.

A long trip from Reynoldsburg, OH to Wilmington, DE and back, along with three games in as many days from December 27-29, 2018 at the St. E Center (pictured above) in the 28th Diamond State Classic in between, ended up being arguably the biggest turning point for the Lady Raiders’ season.

To kick off the Diamond State Classic on Thursday December 27th, 2018, Reynoldsburg would open up the eight-team St. Francis Healthcare Cup on the aforementioned floor against Elizabeth Seton High School (Bladensburg, MD). The Lady Raiders would lose what ended up being a hard-fought contest to the Lady Roadrunners by a score of 56-49 to drop them to a 4-5 overall record. Uju Ezeudu would lead Reynoldsburg with 20 points and 13 rebounds in the defeat: her seventh double-double in nine regular-season games.

However, the Lady Raiders certainly had to feel good about where they were at even despite the loss, as they built up a little bit of momentum in the second half of that game. They would actually trail by double digits against Elizabeth Seton before eventually scoring 11 unanswered points to close out the 3rd quarter and taking a lead into the final period. But the Lady Roadrunners would ultimately pull away in the game’s final minutes, setting up a matchup between Reynoldsburg and Mount Lebanon (PA) just under 24 hours later.

But that momentum and confidence certainly carried into the morning of Friday December 28th, 2018 against the Lady Blue Devils.

Reynoldsburg head coach Jack Purtell, who is in his 17th season leading the Lady Raiders, gives instructions to his locked-in team against Mount Lebanon (PA) in the second game of the Diamond State Classic on December 28th, 2018. After falling by a score of 56-49 against Elizabeth Seton one day earlier to fall to 4-5 on the season, the Lady Raiders would win this contest by a score of 61-49: their first win that kicked off a streak of 12 wins in their 13 remaining regular season games.

The Lady Raiders didn’t seem to miss early on offense and were particularly locked in on defense in the game’s opening period. Reynoldsburg’s Alexia Mobley would open that game up with a layup, senior guard Bre Johnson would hit from downtown, and senior guard Destiny Fields would score two early buckets for the Burg not even three minutes into the game. They would only hold the Lady Blue Devils to one field goal and four free throws in the opening period, while freshman guard Makiya Miller would add a layup, Mobley would score on a putback, and Kyria Walker would get hot after a big bucket from long range to cap of a 16-6 opening period in favor of the Lady Raiders.

And against Reynoldsburg, a double-digit deficit is usually too much for other teams to overcome. Though, on the flip side, the ten-point lead for the Burg ended up giving the Lady Raiders valuable breathing room in the 2nd quarter.

After Reynoldsburg extended their lead to 24-11 with 5:48 left in the first half, timeout was called by Mount Lebanon, and they would respond with a 10-2 run in just under three minutes to cut the Lady Raiders’ lead to 26-21 with 2:05 left in the 2nd quarter. Reynoldsburg would then break would be a three-minute scoring drought after a pair of free throws and a bucket from down low by Uju Ezeudu, but the Lady Blue Devils would hit a jumper as the halftime buzzer sounded to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 30-23 at halftime.

Both teams would trade a pair of layups to open what was a back-and-forth 3rd quarter, and then a layup by Fields and a three-pointer by Johnson for the Lady Raiders would extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to 39-29 with 3:39 left in the 3rd quarter. Mount Lebanon would then add two quick layups to get within six points of Reynoldsburg before a big bucket and one by Ezeudu following a Reynoldsburg timeout put the Lady Raiders up by nine in a span of under a minute. The Lady Raiders would then call timeout again with 2:36 left in the period after a three-pointer by the Lady Blue Devils cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 42-36.

Whatever was said in that timeout got the Lady Raiders going.

Mount Lebanon would then be held without field goal for the remainder of the period, and four quick points by Ezeudu along with Walker’s second bucket from downtown would put the Lady Raiders comfortably up 49-37 going into the 4th quarter. While both teams would each score 12 points in the final period, the Lady Blue Devils would not get closer than 10 points of Reynoldsburg the rest of the way, as Reynoldsburg seemed to have an answer for every Mount Lebanon basket when it counted. The Lady Raiders would secure a 61-49 victory over the Lady Blue Devils as a result with four players scoring in double figures. Ezeudu would lead Reynoldsburg with 19 points and 8 rebounds, while Fields, Mobley, and Walker each added 10 points for the Lady Raiders. Johnson would score 6 points, and sophomore guard Cassidy Collins, senior post Leah Goodwin, and freshman guard Makiya Miller each scored 2 points in the win.

With their win over Mount Lebanon (PA), the Lady Raiders improved to 5-5 overall, and this ended up being the first win that began their streak of 12 total wins in 13 remaining regular season games. And as a result of that win in game two of their St. Francis Healthcare Cup, the Lady Raiders were rewarded with a slightly later tip time of 11:15am on the morning of Saturday December 29th, 2019 on the East Coast against the Lady Gauchos of Narbonne (Los Angeles, CA) from the West Coast. They probably enjoyed the extra bit of sleep and rest, and Reynoldsburg’s momentum from their win against Mount Lebanon certainly carried over into the next morning.

And although the cold and rainy weather from their win on Friday turned into sun and clear skies in Wilmington, DE on Saturday, it was definitely “rainy” on the court of the St. Ed Center.

It was all smiles for Reynoldsburg to close out the Saint Francis Healthcare Cup of the Diamond State Classic on December 29th, 2018. The Lady Raiders would cruise to a 35-8 halftime lead and an eventual 60-35 victory over Narbonne (CA) in their third and final game at the St. E Center. Reynoldsburg would improve to 6-5 overall, and would head back to Ohio on a very high note.

The Lady Raiders would essentially put the game away early as a result of a dominating first quarter on all ends of the floor. Bre Johnson would put a cap on a 22-2 first period in favor of the Lady Raiders with a bucket from downtown, and Kyria Walker would make the first of what ended up being five three-pointers in the contest to close out the 1st quarter. Reynoldsburg would then hold the Lady Gauchos to only two field goals and a free throw in the entire 2nd period, while Ezeudu and Walker would extend their first-half scoring output to 9 points each to lead the Lady Raiders, who would go up 35-8 at the break.

After Mobley opened up the 3rd quarter with a bucket in the paint, the Lady Gauchos would score seven unanswered points to force a timeout with 2:35 to go in the period and the Lady Raiders up 37-15. But Reynoldsburg would respond with 11 unanswered points from Ezeudu and Walker to close out the period, including two more shots from downtown from Walker, putting the Lady Raiders up 48-15 after three quarters of action in Wilmington. Reynoldsburg would close out the game from there, with Walker hitting her fifth and final three-pointer halfway into the fourth quarter, and the junior guard leading all scorers with 21 points in what ended up being a 60-35 victory for the Burg over Narbonne (CA).

Mobley would end up with a season-high 15 rebounds to go along with six points for the Lady Raiders in the win.

“I think [these two games] really turned us up,” Mobley said of the two wins at the Diamond State Classic. “When we won those two games, it kind of got us together. We started encouraging each other more, the bench was active, the players on the court were active. We were together the whole time, so it kind of brought us chemistry. That is definitely going to be a turning point. I know my role and [my teammates] know their roles. And I hope I can fit and do my role well to help the team succeed.”

It was indeed a turning point, all right.

Ezeudu would score 14 points in that game to cap off a productive three days and a Most Outstanding Player award for the entire tournament, and the Lady Raiders would close out December on a high note with two big wins in as many days at the 2018 Diamond State Classic after losing a close first game. But in addition to Ezeudu and Mobley continuing to dominate in the paint, the fact that Walker had her best performance to date and specifically from behind the arc was huge for Reynoldsburg.

“It’s what we needed,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said of his team’s performances at the 2018 Diamond State Classic. “We need somebody to make some outside shots, and Kyria [Walker] is the best shooter we have, and that will open things up a lot more for Uju [Ezeudu] and Alexia [Mobley].”

As mentioned earlier, Mobley also has also been neck-and-neck with Ezeudu virtually the entire season in rebounds, with each averaging 9.4 and 9.1 rebounds per game, respectively, over the course of the entire 2018-19 regular season. She has also been continuing to provide the Lady Raiders with big outputs onto the scoreboard in her freshman season.

“She works hard,” said Purtell of Mobley immediately after the Diamond State Classic. “She is 14 years old, and good things are going to happen to her because of her work habits. We’ve known that she was going to be coming [to our program], and we knew that when we lost [senior post Jalynda Salley] last year, we would have a need for some size. She’s really athletic, and I think she is progressing. Her defense is better, her rebounding is better. I think as we move on, what she does once she gets the ball in her hands will do nothing but improve.”

She particularly has worked very well with Ezeudu in the paint, and has done even better as the season has progressed and they got more used to playing with each other on the floor. Though both have been a force to be reckoned with in the paint, their offense has run through senior post Ezeudu throughout the course of the season. And Ezeudu’s performances on the scoreboard have been difference makers in every game this season, whether in the wins or losses.

In fact, Ezeudu would score in double figures in every regular season game of 2018-19 until she only scored 5 points in Reynoldsburg’s 50-39 win in a low-scoring Senior Night regular season finale against Tri-Valley. But every one of those points, even small amounts that may result in the Lady Raiders gaining momentum to lead into big scoring runs, has been critical for the Burg.

“We need her to score,” Purtell went on to say of Ezeudu, who broke 1,000 points for her career at the Diamond State Classic and currently sits at 1,246 career points as of the conclusion of the 2018-19 regular season. “She’s our number-one go-to, and it’s not really rocket science. When you have a kid that physically is like her compared to everyone else, she needs to score, and we need her in there. Period.”

With their two straight wins in as many days, the Lady Raiders would end 2018 on a high note and travel back to Reynoldsburg with a 6-5 overall record heading into the new year.

A new year that would see the Lady Raiders go undefeated in the month of January and become one of the hottest teams in Central Ohio.

IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH OF THE DIAMOND STATE CLASSIC:

The success Reynoldsburg had in Wilmington, DE and subsequent aura of momentum also took the 450-mile bus ride back to Ohio with the team: one that had even more chemistry than it had prior to the trip.

And the results following their trip to Delaware certainly speak for themselves.

The Lady Raiders would travel to division foe Pickerington North on 1/4/2019 to open up the new year. Uju Ezeudu and Kyria Walker would both remain hot in particular, scoring 16 points and 10 points, respectively, in the first half alone on the way to a 30-16 halftime lead for Reynoldsburg. They would remain comfortably ahead the rest of the game on the way to a 56-29 victory, with Ezeudu dominating on the way to a 27-point performance to lead all scorers fresh off of her thousandth career point in Delaware. Walker would finish with 14 points, and Alexia Mobley would add a double-double consisting of 11 points and 11 rebounds to give the Burg three scorers in double figures.

“I’m glad we’re trying to get things together,” Ezeudu said after the Pickerington North game. “My game this year has definitely changed from a rebounder last year to a scorer this year, so me receiving my [1,000 points] was one of my goals that I talked about earlier. I’m glad that I reached that, and I’m glad I’m able to experience that with my team.”

Reynoldsburg junior guard Kyria Walker (#10) shoots a free throw at OCC-Ohio division foe Pickerington North on January 4th, 2019. The Lady Raiders would win their third-straight game here by a score of 56-29 to open up 2019 and improve to 7-5 overall. Walker would average 10.9 points per game and make 41% of her three-point attempts in the 2018-19 regular season.

Ezeudu agreed that, although there were things that could have been better about their performance at Pickerington North, their time at the Diamond State Classic helped them build momentum that continued to rise even after their big win over the Lady Panthers.

“This really wasn’t one of our best games because we had a lot of turnovers,” Ezeudu would go on to say. “But going to Delaware was definitely a good experience for us and an eye-opener, and it showed us how we need to work together. This game [against Pickerington North] helped us grow as a team. We did not have a lot of team chemistry at the beginning, because it was a new team and none of us had actually played together as a new group. With us having a lot more bonding and playing together, team chemistry is definitely what helped us get our groove. So we are starting to get that, and once we get it fully, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

With the second half of their regular season (and 2019) beginning on a high note, the Lady Raiders would improve to a 7-5 overall record and to 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio division. However, their goals in the second half of the regular season, in addition to winning all of their remaining games, were to continue to get better on the way to the inevitable postseason.

But one goal that Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders Head Coach Jack Purtell particularly centered in on was his team’s defense: one that allowed about 67 points per game on average in their five losses as opposed to 37.4 points per game on average in their seven wins up to that point.

“I think it starts defensively with us,” said Purtell after the Pickerington North game. “The first few games, we didn’t guard anybody and it was embarrassing, because we always prided ourselves with that being our trademark: the way we guard. We like to run, trap, press, but moving forward, the better that we share the ball, the better shots that we take, along with the little things on the defensive end, I think we can really improve and by tournament time be ready to go.”

With that being said, being on a season-high three-game winning streak following their division road win at Pickerington North definitely helped make him and his team feel great about things to come.

“I feel a lot better now than before we went on our trip,” Purtell would go on to say. “But right now, I am encouraged with our kids and our staff. I look forward to going to practice every day, and just being in the gym. That’s what I’ve always done.”

Although the Lady Raiders would allow over 50 points for the first time since their loss to Elizabeth Seton (MD) in the Diamond State Classic in their next game, a huge night on offense in what ended up being a 79-55 win at New Albany on 1/8/2019 certainly made up for it with five players scoring in double figures. Alexia Mobley would lead the Burg with 17 points and 11 rebounds in a double-double performance, while freshman Makiya Miller would add 12 points, Kyria Walker would score 11 points, and Uju Ezeudu and Destiny Fields would put up 10 points each in that victory.

They would bounce back particularly on defense three nights later at division foe Lancaster, but they would also pick up right where they left off offensively. Walker would connect on five first-half three-pointers, while Ezeudu would score 14 first-half points in the post on the way to a 36-16 halftime lead for Reynoldsburg. The Lady Raiders would cruise to a 77-37 victory over Lancaster to sweep the season series with the Lady Gales, and with Ezeudu scoring 23 points, Walker scoring 18 points, Fields adding 12 points, and Mobley putting up 10 points, four Reynoldsburg scorers would hit double figures.

For Walker in particular, all 18 of these points came on a season-high six made shots from behind the arc.

“My team is throwing confidence in me and getting me the ball,” Walker said after that contest of her improving offensive game. “Starting off the season, it wasn’t too good. I wasn’t really getting into my spots or hitting, but then over the course of time, I kept working before and after practice to try and get my stroke back. But [my teammates] kept on giving me the ball, which I really appreciate.”

One interesting fact worth noting is that this was Walker’s first season without former Reynoldsburg post Jalynda Salley and point guard Mackenzie Davis, who both graduated after the 2017-18 season and were particularly critical players on the Lady Raiders 2015-16 team that most recently made the Final Four. On March 4th, 2016, Salley would put up a 19-point, 12-rebound performance in the Lady Raiders’ 53-47 win over Newark to give Reynoldsburg its most recent regional title. That 2015-16 Reynoldsburg squad would finish with a 23-6 record after a 58-48 loss to eventual state champion Wadsworth in the state semifinals.

Two years later, Salley ended up scoring the game-tying bucket at the end of regulation to force overtime against Gahanna-Lincoln in the District Finals last season, but Reynoldsburg would ultimately lose 54-52 in what would be her and Davis’ final game for the Lady Raiders.

While Davis was only held to three points in that loss to Gahanna-Lincoln, her command of the court throughout Walker’s and many of the returning players’ careers prior to this year meant that someone else had to step up and fulfill that role in 2018-19.

In other words, it took a little bit of time for everyone to settle into their roles, but things have certainly trended upwards for the Lady Raiders once that began to happen.

“Losing [Davis and Salley] was really detrimental at first,” said Walker, who would join the Lady Raiders as a freshman in the 2016-17 season. “[Davis] was our point guard for most of our high-school careers, so that was a new feel with not being the scoring guard like I was last season. It was new for everybody, and everyone had to adapt. We weren’t used to that, our communication was not good, and our chemistry was really off. I think we’re adapting very well, but for these next games coming up, we are going to have to buckle down and become a team.”

They would indeed do those things, to say the least.

With a multitude of cameras in front of them, the 2015-16 Lady Raiders squad, which included former Reynoldsburg post Jalynda Salley (#45) and point guard Mackenzie Davis (#21), pose for photos following their 53-47 regional title win over Newark on March 4th, 2016. As seniors in 2017-18, Davis’ and Salley’s leadership definitely had big impacts on what ended up being four returning starters, three of them (#34 Bre Johnson, #24 Uju Ezeudu, and Destiny Fields in the purple Raiders shirt) pictured as freshmen above, for Reynoldsburg in 2018-19. Walker would join the team as a freshman the season immediately following Reynoldsburg’s regional title.

Building up even more confidence, the Lady Raiders improved to a 9-5 overall record and 4-2 in the OCC-Ohio division after their win at Lancaster. And this hot streak of five straight wins with big performances from a variety of scorers could not have come at a better time for the Burg.

Especially with a familiar foe next up on the schedule five days later.

REVENGE OF THE BURG AND MESSAGE SENT TO CENTRAL OHIO:

A highly-anticipated rematch between the Lady Raiders and Gahanna-Lincoln would then take place in the Burg on Thursday 1/17/2019. For Reynoldsburg, it was a huge opportunity to see how far the Lady Raiders have improved since the Diamond State Classic, and there was no better test than against the same Lady Lions team that had won two straight meetings against the Burg: one to eliminate them from the postseason last year, and one more at Gahanna-Lincoln High School earlier in December.

But in thrilling fashion and in an emotional game, Reynoldsburg would finally overcome their last two losses to the Lady Lions.

Although this three-point attempt as time expired in the 2nd quarter was good for Gahanna-Lincoln to give the Lady Lions a 40-37 lead over Reynoldsburg after a high-scoring first half, the Lady Raiders would emerge victorious by a score of 73-67 on January 17th, 2019 against the team that eliminated them from last postseason for a critical split of their regular-season series. This would be Reynoldsburg’s sixth-straight victory, improving the Lady Raiders to 10-5 overall.

In a game where nobody seemed to miss early, Kyria Walker would end up scoring Reynoldsburg’s first eight points with two quick buckets from behind the arc. Uju Ezeudu would then get on the board from down low before a quick answer by the Lady Lions, but Alexia Mobley would then score her first points on a putback before Gahanna-Lincoln called timeout with the Lady Raiders up 12-8 not even three and a half minutes into the contest. Mobley would then hit a pair of free throws after drawing a foul with 4:04 to go in the opening period to extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to six points, though the Lady Lions would respond with back-to-back three-pointers on their next two possessions. Mobley and Walker each were able to score for Reynoldsburg in between, though, giving Reynoldsburg an 18-14 lead with 2:59 left in the 1st quarter. After Gahanna-Lincoln’s fifth foul (compared to zero for Reynoldsburg) in the period, Ezeudu would hit a pair of free throws, but both teams would score on their final possessions of the period to result in a 22-18 lead for Reynoldsburg at the end of a high-scoring 1st quarter.

Both teams didn’t seem to slow down very much in the 2nd quarter either.

The Lady Lions would score a quick three-pointer to open up the new period and score again on their next possession, but a bucket by Makiya Miller in between for Reynoldsburg kept the Lady Raiders clinging to a 24-23 lead with 6:30 to go in the half. Walker would then provide the Burg with some pretty big breathing room, though, as she would be fouled while shooting a three-pointer that ended up going in. That plus the ensuing free throw gave the Lady Raiders a big four-point play, and a 28-24 lead with 5:54 to go in the period.

Gahanna-Lincoln would then score five quick unanswered points in under a minute to take their first lead of the game, including off of what ended up being Reynoldsburg’s first foul of the night. Both teams would then trade multiple possessions, but after Mobley made the first of what ended up eventually being two free throws, Ezeudu would score on a putback of the second one that was missed to put Reynoldsburg back in front by a score of 37-35 with 1:31 to go in the half.

The Lady Lions would then tie it on a coast-to-coast layup before taking a 40-37 halftime lead over the Lady Raiders on a buzzer-beating shot from downtown. And then Gahanna-Lincoln opened the second half with another from behind the arc to extend their lead to six over Reynoldsburg.

But then the Lady Raiders had other ideas.

Gahanna-Lincoln would then be held scoreless, and Reynoldsburg would score 12 unanswered points to take a 49-43 lead with 3:08 left in the period starting with buckets each by Mobley, Fields, and Walker in a hot stretch capped off by six straight points by Ezeudu. The Lady Lions would then go on a 9-2 run over the next two minutes before both teams would come up empty in the final minute of the 3rd quarter, but Gahanna-Lincoln would ultimately take a 52-51 lead into the last eight minutes of regulation.

Reynoldsburg would trail 56-53 with 6:10 to go, but just over a minute later, Mobley would score on a putback and draw a foul, and would have the opportunity to tie the game at the free throw line. Although she would miss the ensuing free throw, Reynoldsburg would get the rebound and Kyria Walker would connect from long range to instead give the Lady Raiders a 58-53 lead with 5:02 to play in the Burg.

And after the Lady Lions tied the game back up on their next possession, Ezeudu would score four straight points, and Bre Johnson would hit from downtown for seven unanswered Reynoldsburg points to give the Lady Raiders a 65-58 lead with 3:29 to go.

“To us, it was like a redemption type thing,” Johnson said of the eventual victory against the Lady Lions. “We definitely did not want to lose to them again. So it felt really great to beat them.”

The Lady Raiders would not fall behind again.

Ezeudu would score the next six points for Reynoldsburg to cap off a 26-point, 16-rebound performance for the Lady Raiders, who had answers at the right times for every bucket by Gahanna-Lincoln. Walker would then be fouled with 25.5 seconds to go, and would sink a pair of free throws to cap off a monster performance of 23 points and 13 rebounds for the junior guard. This gave Reynoldsburg a 73-67 lead before time eventually ran out on Gahanna-Lincoln with the score that way.

As a result of the 73-67 victory, where Mobley also had 11 points to give three Reynoldsburg scorers in double figures, the Lady Raiders would improve to a 10-5 record overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio division after what ended up being a critical sixth-straight win.

This certainly was huge for senior guard Destiny Fields, who has been a leader of this squad, and one of the players who started in last season’s District Finals loss against this same team.

“It is hard to beat teams three or four times in a row, especially when we played them last year and they did beat us,” Fields said after the win against Gahanna-Lincoln. “They’re a really good team, and even though they have lost players [after last season], we’ve lost players as well. They are probably playing even better than they played last year, so this means a lot.”

Reynoldsburg senior guard Destiny Fields (#11) attempts a free throw in the Lady Raiders’ game against Pickerington Central on December 21st, 2018. Fields has put up double figures in 11 of the Lady Raiders’ games in 2018-19, including five of Reynoldsburg’s last six contests. This also includes performances of this nature against what ended up being the top three seeded teams in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Girls Basketball Tournament: #1 Pickerington Central (14 points in the rematch on 2/1/2019), #2 Newark (14 points on 12/18/2018), and #3 Dublin Coffman (11 points on 11/23/2018).

Even though the 67 points was the most point the Lady Raiders allowed in a victory this season, they locked down late when it mattered most in the final period to halt the high-scoring Lady Lions and their sharpshooters, and this gave their offense all of the momentum in the process.

“The turning point [in the 4th quarter] was just playing with heart on defense,” Fields would go on to say. “The more that we wanted to go after the ball, it just made our offense better. So when we busted our butts when we played defense, the layups were just easier to make. It just all came together. I still feel like we need to put in the work that we are putting in now during practice. We can’t just slow down; it only goes up after this.”

Just like it has trended upwards in the Diamond State Classic, Reynoldsburg’s chemistry has continued to improve on the court as well as on the stat sheet, with the Lady Raiders players understanding their particular roles a lot better and therefore providing each other with their opportunities on both defense and offense.

“The beginning of the season, we didn’t have a lot of team chemistry,” Fields would go on to say about her and her fellow starters. “We were really friends, but we didn’t know how to be hard on each other on the court because we didn’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. But now, I feel like everybody knows their role more than we did at the beginning of the season. I know that I can depend on [Alexia Mobley] and [Uju Ezeudu] to rebound, and at the same time, I can depend on Kyria [Walker] and Bre [Johnson] to go out there and rebound, too. And even our players that come off of the bench, because the same momentum has to happen when they’re in and out of the game.”

Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell agreed that this was definitely a milestone win for his team, but still knew that there was more work to be done to continue their momentum well into the second half of the regular season.

“They are a very good team,” Purtell said of Gahanna-Lincoln after that victory. “We tried to switch our defense, but they are so fast and they create some problems. So I was glad that we had the opportunity to outscore them. Kyria [Walker] hit some big shots, Uju [Ezeudu] was a monster, and we’re getting there. We still have ways to go, and we have to get better before the tournament, but it’s a good way to start the second half of the league. All we did [after the win] was go [into the locker room] and cheer, but we really didn’t do anything except put our hands in the middle and I told them how proud of them I was of them. We know it wasn’t perfect, but we were really happy.”

Especially in a back-and-forth contest where no one could stop each other early in the game before Reynoldsburg eventually clamped down on defense when it mattered most.

“It was kind of a game of runs,” Purtell went on to say. “I thought that [Gahanna-Lincoln] started the third quarter and they got up by six, and then we scored 6-8 in a row. It kind of seesawed until the end, and we just had a little too much [Uju Ezeudu] for them to be honest. And they missed some shots, finally. But that is our advantage when we play Gahanna-Lincoln; their guards are really fast and really good. Not that ours aren’t. It’s hard to simulate their speed in practice, but I like our chances when [Ezeudu and Mobley] have it down there, and good things happen [as a result].”

He certainly has to also love his teams’ chances when junior guard Kyria Walker has the ball as well. She would not only continue her hot streak on offense by putting up 23 points with four three-pointers against the Lady Lions; she would grab a career-high 13 rebounds (nine of them defensively alone) in what ended up being her first career double-double.

“She’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever had here in my tenure,” Purtell would say of Walker. “So we’re trying to get her more opportunities to shoot more.”

And in a critical home matchup against defending regional runner-up Westerville South six nights later on Wednesday 1/23/2019, Walker again capitalized on those opportunities.

So did everyone else on the team, for that matter.

A highly-anticipated contest against defending regional runner-up Westerville South, who returned the majority of its starters from its deep postseason run in 2017-18, begins at home on January 23rd, 2019 in what was a huge test for the Lady Raiders. Reynoldsburg passed it with flying colors, as they took an 18-point halftime lead and defeated the Lady Wildcats 68-37 in arguably their best performance of the regular season. They would improve to 11-5 overall after this victory: their seventh-straight win.

Walker would open up the game’s scoring from downtown against the Lady Wildcats, who came into the Burg with only two losses, before Westerville South got on the board with five quick points to take a 5-3 lead over the Burg with 6:45 left in a back-and-forth 1st quarter. A three-pointer by Johnson to put the Burg up by one then kicked off a six-minute stretch where both teams came up big defensively and traded possessions. Leading only 12-10 in the final seconds of the opening period, Makiya Miller would then hit a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give the Lady Raiders a 15-10 lead over Westerville South to end the 1st quarter.

But it was all Reynoldsburg in the 2nd quarter and the rest of the way.

Miller’s buzzer-beating three-pointer would be the start of a 22-6 run for Reynoldsburg before halftime. Walker would hit two more from long range with a split pair of free throws by Mobley in between, forcing a timeout by Westerville South with 5:53 to go in the half and the Lady Raiders up 22-10. The Lady Wildcats would get on the board for the first time in the period just over thirty seconds later from down low, but a pair of free throws by Ezeudu and back-to-back buckets by Mobley would put Reynoldsburg up 28-12 with 4:10 left in the half.

Westerville South appeared to have a rally in them with two quick layups to cut the Lady Raiders’ lead to 12 with 2:57 to go in the period, but the Lady Raiders would halt that very quickly after what ended up being another timeout. Reynoldsburg would keep Westerville South off of the scoreboard for the rest of the half, and four more points by Ezeudu plus two free throws by Johnson gave the Lady Raiders a 34-16 lead at halftime after ending the quarter on an 8-0 scoring run.

Things did not end up getting any better for Westerville South out of the locker room. In fact, they would get no closer than the 18-point deficit they faced heading into it.

Five quick points by Ezeudu plus Walker’s fourth and final triple of the night to open the 3rd quarter put the Lady Raiders up 42-18 with 6:25 left in the period. Walker would finish her scoring output with 12 points all from long range before both teams split the next twelve combined points thanks to back-to-back three pointers by the Lady Wildcats and three points each from Ezeudu and Fields for Reynoldsburg. With the Lady Raiders up 48-26 after calling timeout with 3:23 left in the period, Ezeudu would score the final four points of the period for the Burg, putting the senior at 24 points in just three periods on the way to a 52-32 lead for the Lady Raiders as time expired in the 3rd quarter.

Then came a burst from another Reynoldsburg senior in the 4th quarter.

Johnson would score eight quick points to open the final period for the Lady Raiders: one on a bucket in the paint plus a free throw, the next in transition thanks to a long pass from Fields, and then one from downtown to cap off a career-high 13 points with 5:25 to go to put the Lady Raiders up 60-34 to all but seal the game for the Burg. Mobley would then score the next four points for the Lady Raiders, while Ezeudu would score her final bucket with 1:55 to go to cap of a team-leading 26-point performance.

“This win not only helped us as a team, but it helped everybody else notice us,” Ezeudu said of the victory. “I guess we had a lot of doubters at the beginning of the season because of how we came out with the first loss, but this is really showing teams how we can play on the court and how competitive we are on our fight to the finish. Even though we did have some sloppy turnovers at some times, overall, this was the best game that we had from top to bottom.”

Especially for the senior post, who also had 15 rebounds against the Lady Wildcats six days after scoring 26 points and reeling in a season-high 16 rebounds in Reynoldsburg’s win over Gahanna-Lincoln. Including these two performances, Ezeudu would put up a staggering total of eleven double-doubles in the regular season. In other words, for those not familiar with basketball vocabulary, Ezeudu simultaneously reached double figures in both points and rebounds in half of the Lady Raiders’ regular season games as part of an average of 18.8 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game overall.

(Even more simply put, that is pretty insane.)

And even though all opposing teams are well aware that the Lady Raiders’ offense runs through Ezeudu, she still finds a way to pick apart opposing defenses. Most importantly, she is never phased by her opponents, regardless of their record or reputation coming into contests against Reynoldsburg.

Or, in the case of the Lady Wildcats, a team that came into the contest with four commits to play Division I NCAA Basketball.

“I see [every competitor] as the same, so I don’t go into any games nervous or scared,” Ezeudu said of her mindset. “Westerville South is a heck of a team. They have two [Ohio State] commits, an [Ohio University] commit, and an [Indiana State] commit. I didn’t want to go into the game nervous, and I told the team that we can’t go out there whipped. We have to just come out and be humble and hungry.”

Sophomore guard Cassidy Collins would then put the icing on the cake for easily Reynoldsburg’s best performance of the entire regular season with a layup 35 seconds later, and the Lady Raiders outscored Westerville South 16-5 in the final period on the way to a stunning 68-37 victory for Reynoldsburg.

Not only did the Lady Raiders defeat this defending regional runner-up Westerville South squad that returned most of its starters from last year’s postseason run: they crushed them.

“Honestly, we played like a team,” Johnson said after that game. “We passed really well, we played with each other really well, and we got defensive stops. That’s what it’s all about. If we keep working hard, pushing each other, and passing the ball, and playing like a team, we can do it. [After the win], we screamed, we yelled, and we celebrated like a team. We’re ready to do this.”

Reynoldsburg senior guard Bre Johnson (#34) sets up a play in the backcourt against Narbonne (CA) in the Lady Raiders’ third and final game of the Diamond State Classic on December 29th, 2018 that eventually leads to the above basket in the paint by Uju Ezeudu. Johnson would score a career-high 13 points in Reynoldsburg’s 68-37 win over Westerville South just under a month later.

Following their win against Westerville South, the Lady Raiders improved their record to 11-5 overall. With wins against the Lady Wildcats and Gahanna-Lincoln in this winning streak, which were against two teams that would eventually join Reynoldsburg amongst the top-ten seeds in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Girls Basketball Tournament, the Lady Raiders officially sent a message to Central Ohio that they should be included amongst contenders for what would be an unbelievable eighth district title in ten seasons: something that may not have been a thought outside of the Reynoldsburg locker room prior to the holidays.

“I think the more that we play together and get used to each other, the more we work well together,” Johnson said. “We just make sure that we have each other’s backs, and that we push each other to our limits, because we want everybody to prosper and win. We’re tired of losing. At the beginning [of the season], it was tough, because some of us weren’t used to playing with each other. And then adding new players to the mix made it hard to see where everybody was at. But as the season has gone on, we learned to work with each other, how people do certain things, and how to incorporate that into how we play. I think we’re doing great so far.”

They definitely learned how one new player in particular, who would be 6’ 2” freshman post Alexia Mobley and therefore the only currently starter without any prior varsity experience coming into the 2018-19 season, would go about her business on the court. Mobley would secure 15 rebounds for the Burg against Westerville South to tie a season and career-high.

And with what has become an extremely dangerous two-headed monster of Ezeudu and Mobley in the paint on both sides of the ball given that of them also averaged double figures in point scored on the offensive side of the ball, this along with the defense by the Lady Raiders’ backcourt is why they have only allowed 49.3 points per game overall in the 2018-19 regular season. This number, most importantly, includes an average of just under 40 points per game allowed by Reynoldsburg in the second half of the regular season.

In fact, both Ezeudu and Mobley combined for an unbelievable 69 points and 57 rebounds (including 35 combined offensive boards) in the Lady Raiders’ big home wins over Gahanna-Lincoln and Westerville South alone.

“Definitely rebounding, defense, and our talking,” Mobley said of what particularly was the difference in their win against Westerville South, in which the Lady Raiders’ starting guards also added 14 combined rebounds in addition to the aforementioned ones from Ezeudu and Mobley. “We have really turned the corner. Our chemistry has gotten better, and we just have to keep doing what we’re doing, because it is obviously working for us. We really have heart and work hard.”

And in a game that was a true measuring stick for where the Lady Raiders were at, they were unstoppable.

“We played well,” Purtell would say of the big win. “I felt like we didn’t turn the ball over as much, and that has been one of our Achilles Heels. I thought we did a good job on the boards. When we have guards rebounding with [Uju Ezeudu and Alexia Mobley], we don’t always make them all, but we get a lot of second-chance shots and defensive rebounds. I felt like we had a good plan, good practices, and we made shots. I told the girls ahead of time before the game that this is the kind of game where we see where we are at. If we win, it wasn’t going to make our season. If we lose, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”

With that dominating of a performance against one of the area’s and state’s top teams, even he didn’t know where his team was at after its 31-point victory over defending regional runner-up Westerville South in what was only the Lady Wildcats’ third loss of the season. In fact, their only two losses after that point in the regular season would be against Africentric and Dublin Coffman: two of the top teams in the state.

But even Africentric and Dublin Coffman couldn’t match Reynoldsburg’s margin of victory and particularly 37 points allowed, which ended up being a regular-season low in points scored for a Westerville South team that came into the Burg averaging 67.6 points scored per game.

“I just felt like we played good team defense,” Purtell went on to say. “[Westerville South] didn’t shoot very well and we rebounded pretty well. That’s basketball. The tape that I saw on the video [prior to the victory], I wasn’t sure we can even stay with them. [Westerville South] made everything, and just were quick and athletic. So I’m really glad the game went how it did. And [Bre Johnson who scored 13 points] knows it really isn’t her job to score, but she took good shots today. She always guards, knocks shots down, and has turned into a really good free throw shooter. Hats off to her.”

After this big win, the Lady Raiders would find themselves one road win at Grove City away from a perfect record in the month of January, which may not have even a thought back in December.

“We just were trying to get better,” said Purtell of the team’s start to the season and where they went from there. “Every year, we just try to get better and the season goes on, and by the time that tournament time gets here, then we are going to be at our best. That’s the most fun time of the year. I think that when a lot of other programs lose, they lose, [and then when] the season is over [their kids] go on to the next sport. Our kids aren’t like that. We thrive on getting into the tournament, getting into the districts, the regionals, and really trying to compete.”

Sitting at 11-5 overall, on a seven-game win streak, and with a pair of signature wins to go with it, the Lady Raiders were definitely trending upwards towards tournament time when playing the best basketball possible truly matters the most.

REGULAR SEASON HOME STRETCH AND FAMILY TIES:

The Lady Raiders would indeed cap off an undefeated month of January with a huge 79-20 win at OCC-Ohio division foe Grove City to improve to 12-5 overall and 6-2 in their division.

Most importantly, Reynoldsburg continued to show how much better every player on the team works with each other than how they did so early in the season as they were getting used to each other. In fact, they would have a season-high 28 assists overall in that victory compared to only 13 assists in their previous matchup: a 59-17 win by Reynoldsburg a month and a half earlier.

The Lady Raiders would end their regular season with a 15-0 record in games where its players combined for at least 13 assists; including their win at Grove City for what ended up being their eighth-straight victory, they had at least 20 assists in five games in the second half of the regular season. They would also force 27 turnovers against Grove City that led to 31 points for the Burg.

To open up the 2018-19 postseason, the Lady Raiders also had 15 total assists in their 56-18 win over Central Crossing, improving them to 16-0 overall when putting up at least 13 assists.

Senior post Leah Goodwin had her first career double-digit output with 10 points off of the bench in the win against Grove City after making five of her six shots in the paint. She would join Uju Ezeudu (20 points, 7 rebounds), Alexia Mobley (15 points, 13 rebounds), and Kyria Walker (11 points, three shots from downtown) with four total players in double figures on the night.

But while Goodwin has played with her fellow seniors since even before their time at Reynoldsburg High School, she also agreed that all aspects of her 2018-19 squad have come together since the Diamond State Classic back in Wilmington, DE.

“It means a lot to play with this team,” Goodwin would say. “The seniors have been with each other since the 6th grade. So I know it’s kind of the end for us, but we want to go out with a bang. We’ve all grown, and that goes a lot to pushing each other in practice, testing our limits, going hard every day, and just dealing with people who want to be there every day. And we have a great coaching staff to go along with us. I think we’ve come together as a team, and it mostly clicked in Delaware. Having that seven-and-a-half hour bus ride and actually talking to each other and interacting with each other off the court goes a really long way. We want to go big or go home.”

Reynoldsburg senior post Leah Goodwin (#22) dribbles the ball just inside the arc against Narbonne (CA) in the Lady Raiders’ third and final game of the Diamond State Classic on December 29th, 2018 in Wilmington, DE. Goodwin and her fellow seniors, who have played with each other since the 6th grade, agreed that things started to click for the Lady Raiders in 2018-19 during their time in Delaware.

And after her fourth-straight game of 20+ points, fellow senior Ezeudu would score in double figures for the 17th time in as many regular season games to start off the season and 21st-straight time overall going back to last season. But she knew that the Lady Raiders wanted to continue this momentum into the final month of the regular season and perhaps one more after that.

“Coming out in January and just not losing is helping us,” Ezeudu went on to say. “When we went to Delaware, we were down. We didn’t know how the team was going to go, but going to Delaware really just bonded us and showed us what we need to do. So January is really a big month for us, and we really want to keep it going into February and March.”

While this winning streak would be snapped on the first night of February at arch-rival and Pickerington Central: the top-ranked Division I team in the state of Ohio and eventual #1 seed in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Girls Basketball Tournament, the Lady Raiders showed a lot of fight through adversity in what ended up being a 56-48 loss. In a rematch against the same team they lost to at home by 24 points December, when they allowed a season-high 71 points prior to their trip to Delaware, the Lady Tigers scored 10 unanswered points in just under the first three minutes of the game.

But Reynoldsburg would show no major signs of being rattled and fought hard against their arch-rivals.

The Lady Raiders’ eight-game win streak would be snapped at arch-rival Pickerington Central on February 1st, 2019 in what ended up being a 58-46 loss for Reynoldsburg, though it would be much closer than their meeting earlier in the season. Although they would fall to 12-6 overall after the defeat, the Lady Raiders would not lose again in the 2018-19 regular season.

The Lady Raiders would quickly go on a 13-6 run to get back within one possession in just a four-minute stretch, and would only trail 18-15 with 6:35 left in the 2nd quarter. However, Pickerington Central would score 13 unanswered points in the next five and a half minutes, and after a late pair of buckets by Ezeudu to give the Burg a little bit of momentum, a buzzer-beating three-pointer by the Lady Tigers would put Pickerington Central up 34-19 at the break.

The game would be relatively even the rest of the way, though every time Reynoldsburg seemed to gain a little bit of momentum, Pickerington Central would stop it at the right time. The Lady Tigers even had another buzzer-beating shot from downtown to end the 3rd quarter to extend their lead to 44-32 over Reynoldsburg, and although the Lady Raiders eventually got back within single digits late, time would run out for the Burg in the aforementioned 56-48 defeat.

Destiny Fields would lead the Lady Raiders with 14 points in the loss, while Uju Ezeudu would put up another double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. No other scorer would hit double digits for Reynoldsburg, even though Alexia Mobley came close behind with 8 points and 8 rebounds, and Kyria Walker would only be held to 6 points on two made shots from behind the arc. Makiya Miller would add 6 points for the Burg, and Bre Johnson would score 1 point in the defeat.

However, the loss did not seem to matter to coaches across Central Ohio two nights before the tournament draw, as Reynoldsburg’s 12-6 overall record with a 6-3 record in the OCC-Ohio division certainly did not go unnoticed along with how well the Lady Raiders had played in January. Reynoldsburg would be awarded with the #5-seed in Central Ohio out of 47 teams after winning eight of their last nine games following a 4-5 start.

In fact, they would not lose again in the regular season, and would particularly win by an average margin of victory of just over 45 points at Bishop Rosencrans (78-47), at Central Crossing (77-25), and at home against Pickerington North (78-25) in three games over the next seven days. Their 78-25 win against Pickerington North on Friday 2/18/2019, which was Reynoldsburg’s final regular-season OCC-Ohio division game, would improve the Lady Raiders to 15-6 overall and 7-3 in the division.

Reynoldsburg would ultimately recover from a pair of December division losses (at Gahanna-Lincoln and vs. Pickerington Central) to finish second in the OCC-Ohio division behind Pickerington Central, who went a perfect 10-0 in the league. Three of the top-ten seeded teams in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Division I Girls Basketball Tournament: Pickerington Central, Reynoldsburg, and Gahanna-Lincoln, are members of this division.

Against Pickerington North, the Lady Raiders would score the game’s first 20 points and would essentially put the game away before the first quarter buzzer sounded. They would lead 22-2 after one period and 40-10 at the half against a Lady Panthers team that drew the #20 seed in the district tournament and even defeated #8 Gahanna-Lincoln back in December. Reynoldsburg would not take their foot off of the gas either, extending their lead to 57-18 after three periods and outscoring the Lady Panthers 21-7 in the final period on the way to the big 78-25 victory.

Destiny Fields would lead the Lady Raiders with 13 points in the win, while Kyria Walker scored 10 points, and both Uju Ezeudu (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Alexia Mobley (12 points, 11 rebounds) would add this game to their growing list of double-doubles.

And in what ended up being a doubleheader into the Boys game, where the Boys lost a hard fought 53-48 battle against Pickerington North in the second game that night at Reynoldsburg High School, another Mobley family member would play on the same floor.

That would be Alexia Mobley’s brother and sophomore guard Josiah Mobley, who is a first-time varsity player on the Boys team and has also been hot on offense in the second half of the Boys’ regular season. While his sister has dominated in the paint, Josiah Mobley has particularly emerged from behind the arc in the second half of the Boys’ regular season, including scoring 15 points on five three-pointers to lead the Raiders to a 57-56 win at Eastmoor Academy. He would then connect from behind the arc three more times at Lancaster, including on a critical bucket with 6:50 to go to tie the game and begin a momentum-shifting burst of 18 unanswered points to end that game.

That would result in a 50-35 win in the Boys’ regular season finale to improve them to a 17-5 overall record heading into their postseason opener at home against Mifflin (2/23/2019, 1:00pm).

“It’s hard to see his games and it’s hard for him to see my games, but I think it’s really cool,” Alexia Mobley said of her and her brother both playing at the varsity level this season. “Not everyone can say that they play on varsity and that their sibling also plays on varsity. So I think that is really awesome.”

She’ll actually have an opportunity to see her brother play in the postseason, as the Girls will also coincidentally play their second-round postseason contest against Mifflin (Fri 2/22/2019, 7:00pm) in the Burg not even 24 hours before the Boys open up their postseason on the same floor versus the same school.

Reynoldsburg sophomore guard Josiah Mobley (#23, far left), a first-year varsity player for the Raiders Boys Basketball team, chases after a player in a game against Pickerington North on February 8th 2019. He is the brother of Reynoldsburg Lady Raiders freshman post Alexia Mobley, who also wears #23.

Even more, a couple more pairs of siblings within the walls of Reynoldsburg High School alone can actually say they play with each other on varsity squads.

In fact, the Lady Raiders have two pairs of sisters alone on this same team.

Junior guard Malaysia Miller and her sister, freshman guard Makiya Miller, have certainly enjoyed playing with each other and the entire squad overall. They would actually each score 7 points off of the bench in Reynoldsburg’s win against Pickerington North, and each had a three-pointer to go with that. The younger Miller has had big bursts from behind the arc this season in her first year, including four made shots from downtown and 12 points earlier in the season in a 78-55 win at New Albany on 1/8/2019. For Makiya Miller, it has certainly been great having the experience of older sister Malaysia Miller, who made 45% of her shots overall last year and 40% of her three-pointers on the way to the team’s District Finals appearance, readily available.

But after the victory over Pickerington North at home, Malaysia Miller reflected on the improvements of the Lady Raiders’ chemistry, and agreed that the Diamond State Classic was a turning point in that regard.

“At the beginning of the season, we had struggles getting chemistry and our defense wasn’t together,” Malaysia Miller said after the Lady Raiders’ home win against Pickerington North. “Ever since after Delaware, we were tired of losing. After that, we just got on a run and started doing well. So it feels great to be a part of it. [The seniors] are like my older sisters and I love them so much, and it will be sad to see them go [after this season]. But they are great teammates and great role models. At practice, they get everybody going, and if it’s a bad day, they make sure it’s good day. They are amazing.”

And she definitely enjoys spending time with her younger sister, Makiya, both on and off the court. Both of them certainly cherish their chemistry on the court, where they both know what each other are going to do at any given moment. But the same thing can be said about everyone on the entire Lady Raiders team, as they have grown closer and closer from the start of the regular season to the end of it. Their increasing bond certainly has a positive correlation with virtually all statistics of this team since the Diamond State Classic, and Makiya Miller has certainly had the best stretch of her freshman year since that tournament in Wilmington, DE.

“It really means a lot,” said Makiya Miller of being a part of this team, who also went on to talk about playing with fellow freshman Alexia Mobley and the rest of her Lady Raiders teammates. “[Alexia Mobley and I] have been playing with each other since 3rd grade. She’s like a sister to me. I feel like our freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will take a big step and will take the leadership [of our seniors after graduation]. We’re learning from them and are trying to do what they do.”

Destiny Fields and her younger sister, freshman guard Jazmyn Fields, have also certainly enjoyed this ride together as well. Jazmyn Fields also got on the scoreboard in the win against Pickerington North to go with her older sister’s 13 points to lead the team in that win.

Reynoldsburg freshmen guards Makiya Miller and Jazmyn Fields are each pictured at the Diamond State Classic to the left of their older sisters: junior guard Malaysia Miller (back row, third from left) and senior guard Destiny Fields (back row, third from right). In other words, with the additions of the younger Miller and Fields in 2018-19, the Lady Raiders have two pairs of siblings on the same team.

But three nights later, Reynoldsburg’s seniors would be on the court together before a big game against Tri-Valley for a moment much bigger than anything that can be measured on a scoreboard, and prior to what ended up being an important game to close out the regular season.

SENIOR NIGHT AND REGULAR SEASON FINALE:

Winners of 11 of their last 12 games, five Lady Raiders seniors and assistant coach Tyler Rippeth were honored prior to a critical Senior Night regular season finale on 2/11/2019 against Tri-Valley: a team coming into the Burg with three losses and seeded #14 in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Division I Girls Basketball Tournament. Reynoldsburg senior players Destiny Fields, Dominique “Nico” White, Leah Goodwin, Uju Ezeudu, and Bre Johnson would join their fellow senior and assistant coach for an emotional pregame recognition ceremony.

Tyler Rippeth joins his fellow seniors for a lot of photos immediately following the pregame Senior Night ceremony for Reynoldsburg on February 11th, 2019. From left to right in the back row: #24 Uju Ezeudu, #11 Destiny Fields, #22 Leah Goodwin, #14 Nico White, #34 Bre Johnson.

After that, it was business as usual for the Lady Raiders.

Not only did all five seniors hear their name as starters for the first time together and also get on the scoreboard in their final regular season home game; a defensive gem by the Lady Raiders put a cap on an unbelievable late December stretch that carried over from Wilmington to Reynoldsburg.

It was a little bit rough for Reynoldsburg early, as the Lady Scotties of Tri-Valley would score the game’s first five points in the first 1:30 of regulation. Johnson, however, would get the Burg on the board from downtown with a bucket from downtown 30 seconds later, and White would score on a split pair of free throws to cut Tri-Valley’s lead to 6-4 with 5:23 left in the opening quarter. After Ezeudu’s first bucket of the game to tie the game 30 seconds later, Tri-Valley would then score seven unanswered points in the next three minutes to take a 13-6 lead over Reynoldsburg with 1:49 left in the period.

Reynoldsburg senior Nico White (#14) shoots a free throw early in the Lady Raiders’ Senior Night and regular season finale against Tri-Valley. She and her fellow four Reynoldsburg seniors, who are all on the court together in the above photo, would all score on Senior Night.

However, once they settled down, the Lady Raiders really got going.

Reynoldsburg would hold the Lady Scotties without a field goal for the next 8:05 of regulation from the remainder of the 1st quarter until well into the 2nd quarter, with Kyria Walker scoring from under the rim and Bre Johnson hitting a pair of free throws to get Reynoldsburg to within 13-10 to close out the opening period. Walker would then open the 2nd-quarter scoring from under the basket, and senior guard Destiny Fields would get on the board with back-to-back layups to give Reynoldsburg a 16-13 lead with 5:56 left in the half: the Lady Raiders’ first lead of the night.

After a split pair of free throws by Tri-Valley, Alexia Mobley would then score on a layup following a turnover by the Lady Scotties at half court, and with two more free throws by Tri-Valley in between, Walker would hit back-to-back triples to put Reynoldsburg up 24-16 with 2:26 left in the period. After Mobley split a pair of free throws, Tri-Valley would then score a field goal for the first time since the opening period and would get back within 5 points of the Burg, but the damage had already been done. Reynoldsburg would end the half on a 21-7 run going back to the end of the 1st quarter, and 10 points by Walker would lead the Burg as the Lady Raiders went into the locker room with a 27-20 lead on Senior Night.

“We started a different group, and that group has never played together in practice,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said of Reynoldsburg’s early deficit against Tri-Valley. “I wanted to allow [all seniors] to hear their name [during starting lineups] and honor them. They played three minutes together, which was good. But I was glad we were able to overcome [our early deficit] and win the game.”

A bucket to open the 3rd-quarter scoring for Reynoldsburg by senior post Leah Goodwin would put the Lady Raiders up 29-20 right after halftime, putting all five Reynoldsburg senior players on the scoreboard on Senior Night. She would score again following a three-pointer by freshman guard Makiya Miller to put the Lady Raiders up 34-22 with just over six minutes remaining in the period. Tri-Valley would then go on an 8-2 scoring run over almost the entire remainder of the 3rd quarter before a layup by Fields for the Lady Raiders would put Reynoldsburg up 38-30 going into the final eight minutes of the regular season.

Reynoldsburg would extend its lead to 43-32 with 5:39 to go after a free throw and a bucket by Fields plus another pair of free throws by Walker. Tri-Valley would then hold the Lady Raiders scoreless and eventually cut their lead to 43-37 with 2:44 to go. The Lady Scotties would be held without a field goal and would only manage two free throws the rest of the way, as seniors Ezeudu, Johnson, and Fields, who led Reynoldsburg with 10 points, would each score in the game’s final minutes, while Walker would put the finishing touches on an amazing performance with a pair of free throws to close out the game.

And just like that, the Lady Raiders completed their remarkable turnaround from a record of 4-5 to 16-6 overall to close out their regular season. With their 50-39 win over a talented Tri-Valley team, the Lady Raiders would head into the postseason as one of the hottest teams in all of Central Ohio and as winners of 12 of their final 13 regular season games.

“I knew we had the potential all along,” Lady Raiders head coach Jack Purtell said of the team’s epic 12-1 finish to their regular season. “It was just a matter of us figuring out what was best for the team. I had the wrong players in a couple of spots, and we had to accept our roles that made our team kind of go. At the Diamond State Classic, we were at a crossroads when we were at 4-5. But all of a sudden, here we are. We’ve lost one since at Pickerington Central, and they’re pretty good.”

Just in case you forgot and were about to scroll back up, Pickerington Central is the top-ranked Division I Girls Basketball team in the state of Ohio, the defending state champions who have only one loss in 2018-19 to a team outside of Ohio in a game played on the East Coast (a 60-50 loss by the Lady Tigers against nationally-ranked Roland Park Country of Baltimore, MD in the Title IX Holiday Invitational over winter break in Washington D.C. back in December, by the way), and the top-seeded team to open up the postseason in Central Ohio. After losing the first game of the Diamond State Classic, Reynoldsburg’s 8-point loss at Pickerington Central’s place was the Lady Raiders’ only loss in the regular season spanning from that point to their Senior Night and regular season finale.

With the win, the Lady Raiders would close out a remarkable regular season with a 16-6 overall record and 7-3 record in the OCC-Ohio division (with Pickerington North three nights prior being their final division game of the regular season). Even more, in his 17th season leading the Lady Raiders, Purtell improved to 17-0 on Senior Night on a night where all five Class of 2019 senior players got on the scoreboard as well.

“In openers and Senior Nights, we have been pretty good,” Purtell said after the game. “I think we have lost a couple of openers, but I told our girls we have never lost on Senior Night and to not start tonight. But [Tri-Valley] was a good team. That game was really physical. We wanted to try to make it a full-court game as much as we could, and I know [the Lady Scotties] wanted to come and run their half-court stuff which they do really well. There was a lot of fouling going on, and there was really never any flow to the game.”

Even more, the Lady Raiders’ defense has continued to improve. After allowing just under 67 points per game on average in their five losses of 2018, the Lady Raiders recovered the rest of the way to bring that number down to 49.3 points per game allowed overall in the 2018-19 regular season, and most importantly just under 40 points per game in the second half of it.

“It starts with rebounding,” Purtell went on to say. “We gave up a lot of penetration tonight. I felt like we had been getting better at stopping penetration, and then not letting people go in there and get our bigs in trouble. Alexia Mobley [with a career-high 5 blocks] just whacked it, which was good. But I think with our rebounding, we have dominated some games. Against Westerville South, it was 60-27 on the boards [in favor of Reynoldsburg], and Gahanna-Lincoln it was 53-26. We also beat Dublin-Coffman [33-26 in the season-opening loss] on the boards. That’s a good recipe for success.”

As a matter of fact, although Mobley and Ezeudu alone have accounted for 45% of the Lady Raiders’ total rebounds in the regular season, Reynoldsburg has still out-rebounded opposing teams by a combined margin of 41.1 to 27.9 rebounds per game on average in the 2018-19 regular season, including a 42.8 to 25.4 margin of this nature in the second half of it (final 11 games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Now that their regular season ended, Reynoldsburg was finally able to look ahead towards the postseason with their long-term goal of getting better heading into the playoffs clearly achieved. They have certainly emerged as district title contenders for, as mentioned earlier, what would be an eighth district title in head coach Jack Purtell’s last ten seasons with the Lady Raiders.

“We should have had one last year,” Purtell would say of the aforementioned stat, last season’s 54-52 overtime loss to Gahanna-Lincoln in the district finals, and the Lady Raiders’ district tournament draw in this year’s postseason. “We lost a [51-47] lead late [in the district finals with 2:55 left in the extra period], but that happens sometimes. That’s athletics, that’s basketball. But I think we have a good draw [this postseason] and we put ourselves in a good spot. With a couple of wins we had late, people tried to stay away from us. I was concerned that Gahanna-Lincoln and Westerville South would come into our bracket and we’d have to beat two of them plus maybe Upper Arlington. But [Gahanna-Lincoln] went with Dublin Coffman. I just told our team I was proud of them, but on Friday [2/15/2019], it will be about trying to play well and trying to play a lot of people.”

More on this and specific district tournament draws across Central Ohio will be elaborated on in the section below, but simply put, Reynoldsburg ended up as the highest-seeded team in their district bracket with the chips indeed falling the Lady Raiders’ way. Pickerington Central, Dublin Coffman, Newark, and Gahanna-Lincoln, the only four Central Ohio teams the Lady Raiders lost to in the 2018-19 regular season, all ended up in the other three district tournament brackets.

In other words, Reynoldsburg would not see any of these four teams in any potential round of the district playoffs.

But to wrap up the regular season, the Lady Raiders catapulted from 4-5 to 16-6 and the #5-seeded team amongst Division I teams in Central Ohio. And it is no coincidence that the 2018 Diamond State Classic in Wilmington, DE over holiday break, the 900-mile round trip on the bus, and everything else in between began an unforgettable stretch for the Burg.

As the Diamond State’s Classic’s vision states, there are some things that are much bigger than basketball. Great charities, great causes, and spreading awareness of these great causes and charities that were emphasized in Delaware are certainly amongst those things that are bigger than points, rebounds, assists, turnovers, steal, and any other statistics that can be found online or in an official scorebook. The same can be said about charities and causes promoted at any other holiday basketball tournament around the country, or really anywhere for that matter.

For Reynoldsburg, the Diamond State Classic was a huge opportunity for the Lady Raiders to further bond and drastically improve their team chemistry. Both of these things happened, and the resulted clearly translated onto the scoreboards and scorebooks. For that reason, this productive trip to Delaware was clearly a turning point and season-altering event for what ended up being a 12-1 finish to the regular season for Reynoldsburg (16-6, 7-3) after their 4-5 start, plus the #5-seed in the playoffs. The improvements on the court that have resulted for the Lady Raiders along with their better chemistry on and off of the basketball court has made this team more and more fun to watch with each new contest that is played.

No matter what happens in the postseason the rest of the way for the Lady Raiders, those things are also certainly bigger than basketball itself.

Reynoldsburg’s seniors got a 50-39 win over Tri-Valley in their final regular season home game, improving them to a 16-6 overall record. The Lady Raiders would therefore cap off their amazing regular-season turnaround from a 4-5 start and head into the postseason red hot as winners of 12 of their last 13 games.

Those things as well as Reynoldsburg’s players specifically working together a lot better on the basketball floor, knowing and trusting what each other would do on the court at any moment, putting trust and confidence in themselves and their teammates to take shots at the right time, and continuing to push each other in practice certainly have also been huge.

But family, like what this Lady Raiders squad has become, is bigger than everything.

POSTSEASON SCHEDULE:

After being upset by Gahanna-Lincoln in the District Finals last year, which has been a huge motivating factor for the Lady Raiders in their quest for a trophy this season, the journey for redemption and an unbelievable eighth district title in ten seasons finally began for Reynoldsburg on their home floor on Friday February 15th, 2019.

And the Lady Raiders’ turnaround in 2018-19 after their 4-5 start was certainly recognized by the OHSAA.

Reynoldsburg, who sat at an overall record of 16-6 at the end of the regular season, was rewarded with the #5-seed out of 47 teams in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio Division I Girls Basketball Tournament. Four of the Lady Raiders’ six losses in the 2018-19 regular season came against the top three teams: #1 and defending state champion Pickerington Central (twice), #2 Newark (once), and #3 Dublin Coffman (once), who all currently have an unbelievable combined record of 65-6 heading into the postseason.

#4 Bishop Watterson rounds out the top five Central Ohio Division I teams.

Reynoldsburg’s only other loss to a Central Ohio team this regular season up to this point was to #8 Gahanna-Lincoln. Westerville South, who the Lady Raiders beat big by a score of 68-37 at home on 1/23/2019, checks in at #6. Upper Arlington checks in at #7, and #9 Hilliard Davidson and #10 Olentangy Liberty round out the top ten Central Ohio Division I teams with #11 Teays Valley and #12 Northland just behind.

And with four district brackets to choose from, Reynoldsburg chose Columbus 2 in the tournament draw, and they are the highest-seeded team in this portion of the bracket. Not too many of the top teams ended up wanting to jump into this bracket, as not too many teams understandably want to play Reynoldsburg at all right now given how well the Lady Raiders have been performing in January and February particularly.

Upper Arlington, Teays Valley, and Northland are the highest-seeded teams behind Reynoldsburg in the Columbus 2 bracket.

Below is a screenshot of Reynoldsburg’s Columbus 2 bracket courtesy of the OHSAA following the conclusion of all first-round postseason contests.

Brackets for all four Central Ohio districts and across the state for Division I Girls Basketball can be by clicking here: https://ohsaa.org/Sports-Tournaments/Basketball-Girls/Girls-Basketball-2018-19/2019-OHSAA-Girls-Basketball-State-Tournament-Brackets

The entire tournament schedule for the 2019 OHSAA Girls Basketball Playoffs from the first round all the way to the state title game is as follows:

ROUND 1: Sectional Semifinals (Friday 2/15/2019, 6:00pm)- The Lady Raiders, who sit in the Columbus 2 bracket pictured above, would dominate on the way to a 44-6 halftime lead against #37 Central Crossing at home on this date to open up their postseason. Reynoldsburg would ultimately defeat the Lady Comets by a score of 56-18 in a rematch of a recent regular season meeting between these two teams. Reynoldsburg defeated this same Central Crossing team by a score of 77-25 on the road not even two weeks ago in the regular season.

With their postseason win against Central Crossing, the Lady Raiders are now 17-5 overall and winners of 13 of their last 14 games.

ROUND 2: Sectional Finals (Friday 2/22/2019, 7:00pm)- With their win over Central Crossing, the Lady Raiders will be the higher-seeded team against #43 Mifflin, and will therefore play the Lady Punchers at home on this date. This will be the true final home game of the season for the Lady Raiders at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School.

ROUND 3: District Semifinals (Wednesday 2/27/2019, 7:00pm)- Should the Lady Raiders win against Mifflin, they will play the winner of #11 Teays Valley vs. #18 Canal Winchester at a neutral site to be determined.

Teays Valley defeated #34 Olentangy Orange by a score of 71-29 in their first-round playoff game.

ROUND 4: District Finals (Saturday 3/2/2019, 1:30pm)- Should the Lady Raiders return to the District Finals, they will play in the second of the four District Finals games on the court of Ohio Dominican University. Possible opponents could be the winner of #12 Northland vs. #25 Licking Heights, or the winner of #7 Upper Arlington (the highest seed on the opposite side of the Columbus 2 bracket) vs. #31 Watkins Memorial.

Upper Arlington defeated #33 St. Francis DeSales by a score of 37-19 in their first-round playoff game.

ROUND 5: Regional Semifinals (Tuesday 3/5/2019, 8:00pm)- The team who emerges from Reynoldsburg’s Columbus 2 bracket, will take on the team who emerges from the Columbus 4 bracket at Otterbein University.

#2 Newark, who defeated the Lady Raiders at home by a score of 69-56 on 12/18/2018, and #4 Bishop Watterson are the highest-seeded teams in the Columbus 4 bracket.

Newark cruised to a 65-20 win over #42 Mount Vernon in their playoff opener, while Bishop Watterson would win a low-scoring 34-25 contest over #36 Hilliard Bradley in their first-round contest. Both Newark and Bishop Watterson could potentially meet each other in the Columbus 4 District Finals if no upsets happen along the way for the chance to play in the Regional Semifinals against the Columbus 2 District Champion.

#1 Pickerington Central and #3 Dublin Coffman are the top-seeded teams in Columbus 1 and Columbus 3, respectively. They both cruised to victories in their opening-round contests, with the Lady Tigers winning 77-29 over #38 Groveport-Madison, and the Lady Rocks winning 73-15 over #39 Grove City.

As mentioned above, the Lady Raiders lost to Pickerington Central twice (71-47 at home on 12/21/2018 and 56-48 on the road on 2/1/2019), and also to Dublin Coffman by a score of 71-64 at home on 11/23/2018 in Reynoldsburg’s regular season opener. The teams that emerge from the Columbus 1 and Columbus 3 brackets will play each other in the earlier Regional Semifinals game on this date (Tuesday 3/5/2019, 6:15pm).

This could potentially set up a Regional Semifinals matchup between Pickerington Central and Dublin Coffman if no upsets happen along the way.

ROUND 6: Regional Finals (Friday 3/8/2019, 7:30pm)- The winner of the Columbus 1 vs. Columbus 3 Regional Semifinals Contest will take on the winner of Columbus 2 vs. Columbus 4 Regional Semifinals Contest at Otterbein University with a trip to OSU’s Jerome Schottenstein Center and the Final Four on the line.

With the above mentioned in regards to the Round 5 scenario, simply put, the only time Reynoldsburg could potentially play either Pickerington Central or Dublin Coffman in the postseason (in what would be rematches of regular-season losses) would be in the Regional Finals.

This also can be said about #8 Gahanna-Lincoln, who defeated the Lady Raiders in last year’s District Finals and split the regular season series with the Burg in 2018-19, as the Lady Lions are also in the Columbus 3 bracket.

ROUND 7: State Semifinals (Friday 3/15/2019, 8:00pm)- The Westerville (Central Ohio) Regional Champion would take on the Norwalk (Northwest Ohio) Regional Champion at the Jerome Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University.

ROUND 8: State Finals (Saturday 3/16/2019, 8:30pm)- The winner of the above Final Four contest would play for all of the marbles and the 2019 Division 1 State Championship 24 hours later in the Schottenstein Center. This would pair up the winner of the Westerville/Norwalk Final Four contest mentioned above against the winner of the Canton/Kettering Final Four contest.

NEXT UP:

The Lady Raiders defeated #37-seed Central Crossing by a score of 56-18 in the opening round of the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio District Tournament on 2/15/2019 at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School. As a result, the Lady Raiders will advance to the second round, where they will play at home against #43-seed Mifflin in what will be Reynoldsburg’s final home game of this season regardless of the result.

Tip against the Lady Punchers will be on Friday February 22nd, 2019 at 7:00pm at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School. Coincidentally, the #7-seed Boys will also open up their postseason against Mifflin High School not even 24 hours later on the same floor, as they will tip against the #38-seeded Punchers on Saturday February 23rd, 2019 at 1:00pm.

The winner of the aforementioned second-round Girls game above will play the winner of #11 Teays Valley vs. #18 Canal Winchester at a neutral site to be determined at 7:00pm on Wednesday February 27th, 2019.

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