COLUMBUS, OH – For the Lady Raiders, it all started with a 54-52 overtime upset loss to OCC-Ohio division foe Gahanna-Lincoln on March 3rd, 2018 on the court of Ohio Dominican University in the district finals of the 2018 OHSAA Tournament. While this heartbreaking loss was a huge motivating factor for Reynoldsburg going into what ended up being a magical 2018-19 season, the Lady Raiders faced adversity early on. A Reynoldsburg team coming off a division title and 20-6 record overall would get off to a 4-5 start while trying to figure out their new roles, though a trip to Wilmington, DE for a tournament over holiday break that began on the final Thursday of December ended up being the beginning of something special for Reynoldsburg.
And heading into the first Tuesday of March, the Lady Raiders are still here.
#5-seeded Reynoldsburg (20-6) would only lose one more game in the regular season after starting 4-5, and would open up the 2019 OHSAA Tournament with a pair of big wins against Central Crossing and Mifflin by a combined margin of victory of 128-27. The Lady Raiders would then emerge victorious over a sharpshooting Teays Valley team in the district semifinals on February 27, 2019 by a score of 63-48 on a night when their opponent scored 36 of their 48 points on twelve made shots from behind the arc to set up a district finals matchup against #7-seeded Upper Arlington.
On March 2nd, 2019, and on the same court Reynoldsburg was eliminated on exactly one year ago, the Lady Raiders would score the game’s first 11 points, jump out to an 18-1 lead, and never look back against the Lady Golden Bears. They would hold Upper Arlington (19-7) to a combined four points in the 1st and 3rd quarters on the way to a 61-32 victory for Reynoldsburg’s eighth district title in ten seasons.
Reynoldsburg senior guard Destiny Fields and senior post Uju Ezeudu would score 21 points and 20 points, respectively, to lead the way for the Burg on offense. Ezeudu also added 16 rebounds in addition to her output on the scoreboard. Defensively, the Lady Raiders would shut down Upper Arlington in a masterful performance that now has them four more wins away from a state title under the guidance of 17th-year head coach Jack Purtell.
But even though a district championship is familiar territory for Reynoldsburg’s head coach, this title in 2019 was arguably one of the most amazing given everything leading up to it.
“Each and every one [of our district titles], I’ve been happy for our kids,” Purtell said after the game. “We lost this game last year in overtime. We had five seniors that went out and played their hearts out [against Upper Arlington], and they really led. [Reynoldsburg senior guard Bre Johnson] led with her defense and competitiveness, and [Destiny Fields] probably had the best game she had ever played. And [Uju Ezeudu] was just Uju. It’s just special; I told the kids beforehand that this group from day one to now has improved more than any team we have had.”
For a Lady Raiders team that started 4-5 on the year while allowing an average of just under 67 points per game in their five losses, a stretch of what ended up being an unbelievable 16 wins in 17 games that began in Wilmington, DE over the holidays at the Diamond State Classic would be capped off with Reynoldsburg cutting down the nets at Ohio Dominican University after a performance that was arguably their best of the season on the biggest of stages.
Your 2019 District Champion Lady Raiders!
Reynoldsburg would open up the game with five straight points to immediately set the tone, holding Upper Arlington scoreless and forcing three of what ended up being the Lady Golden Bears’ 23 turnovers in the opening minutes of regulation. Fields would then connect from behind the arc twice in as many possessions for the Lady Raiders, putting the Burg up 11-0 with 4:56 to go in the 1st quarter. Upper Arlington would finally get on the board 30 seconds later by splitting a pair of free throws, but would not score a field goal until the 2nd quarter.
“Going into this, our goal was to make sure that [Upper Arlington senior guard Macy Spielman] does not score as much as she did,” Johnson said after the win. “It worked out great, and the hard work paid off. With this being by senior year and to go out winning districts, this is only the beginning. The fact that our team worked so hard to win means everything to me.”
Spielman would score exactly half of her team’s 32 points to lead the Lady Golden Bears, putting up 16 points and 8 rebounds in Upper Arlington’s loss. But that aforementioned free throw by Upper Arlington would be the only points for Reynoldsburg’s opponent for the entire first period, as the Lady Raiders would lead 16-1 after the game’s first eight minutes.
While the final score may not have indicated this, the Lady Golden Bears would respond in the 2nd quarter. After a bucket in the paint by Reynoldsburg senior post Leah Goodwin to open the period, Upper Arlington would score its first field goal of the game with 6:47 to go in the quarter to begin a stretch of 10 unanswered points in the next three minutes. Fields would then score her third three-pointer of the game to break the Lady Raiders’ scoring drought to cap off a game-high 12-point performance in the first half and 21-point performance overall.
“Before the game, we all talked as a team, and we do this before each game,” said Fields after the victory. “And we know our roles. We knew that [junior guard Kyria Walker] was sick, so we had [freshman guard Makiya Miller] step up. We know that Kyria shoots most of the threes, so I felt like if I was open, I was able to step in for Kyria and make the threes that needed to be made.”
Each player knowing and embracing their individual roles as the season has progressed not only has been huge, but understanding their fellow teammates’ roles just as much definitely has been critical. This was especially big in the district title game against the Lady Golden Bears.
Walker, who is Reynoldsburg’s starting point guard, started against Upper Arlington but played limited minutes in the first half due to illness. She would end up sitting out for the entire second half, so the rest of her teammates had to step up in her place at the very last minute and on the biggest of stages.
It is pretty safe to say that everyone on the Lady Raiders did this, all right, and their head coach definitely agreed.
“They have one of the premier players in Central Ohio in Macy Spielman,” Purtell said of Upper Arlington. “I think we forced them into some shots they didn’t really want to take. We didn’t want let them to get comfortable on the offensive end, because they do some really good stuff on offense. We tried to get the ball out of Macy’s hands, and I thought we did a good job of that. They missed some shots and we made some shots that kind of got us going. But the thing I am most surprised about is that we did this without one of our best players in [Kyria Walker]. To have the other kids step up like they did just says something about these kids.”
Fields, who probably came off the best performance of her Reynoldsburg career after scoring 18 points and making 62% of her field goals in the Lady Raiders’ 63-48 district semifinals win over Teays Valley, topped that not even 72 hours later against Upper Arlington in what has been a postseason for the ages for the senior guard. In her four playoff games so far in 2019, Fields has averaged 17.3 points per game and has connected on 61% of her field goals, including 55% of them from downtown, and she scored 21 points on 50% made field goals against the Lady Golden Bears.
But this performance certainly had to feel good for Fields: one of five seniors on the Lady Raiders, and one of the four returning starters from last year’s district finals loss to Gahanna-Lincoln.
“I felt like all of the hard work that we put in the preseason was just here,” Fields went on to say. “But I want it to be even crazier. In our freshman year, we went to the Final Four, and I want to be able to win that.”
And against Upper Arlington, the Lady Raiders definitely showed how much they want to do so.
The Lady Golden Bears would answer from downtown quickly afterwards to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 21-15 with just under three minutes to go in the period, but they would get no closer than this the rest of the way. Ezeudu would then score in the paint with 2:47 to go in the half, and Reynoldsburg would score five of the game’s final seven points of the 2nd quarter to go up 26-17 at the break.
Reynoldsburg would then score 14 unanswered points to begin a dominating third quarter starting with a left-handed hook shot by Mobley and a split pair of free throws by Fields. Ezeudu would then score the next nine points for the Lady Raiders capped off by hitting nothing but net on a rare three-point attempt, while Fields would then add another pair of free throws to give Reynoldsburg a 40-17 lead with 3:46 to go in the 3rd quarter.
“Going back to [Ohio Dominican University] really means a lot to me,” said Ezeudu earlier in the week after the team’s district semifinals win over Teays Valley, where she had 17 points and 16 rebounds prior to what ended up being 20 points and 16 rebounds against Upper Arlington. “I wish we could have capitalized on the win last year, so I want to go out there and just win and just keep on winning until there is nothing to win anymore.”
Not only did Ezeudu and her teammates win in the district finals one year later; the Lady Raiders definitely made their mission very clear to the entire state of Ohio if it already wasn’t clear before.
Upper Arlington would finally get on the board well over halfway into the 3rd period on a split pair of free throws, but the damage by Reynoldsburg ended up being too big to overcome for the #7-seeded team in all of Central Ohio.
Ezeudu would score two more buckets from down low for Reynoldsburg to cap off a 20-point performance and a 13-point 3rd quarter, and the Lady Golden Bears would finally score a field goal with under a minute to go in the period on a transition layup following a Reynoldsburg turnover. After allowing only three total points in the 3rd quarter to go with the single point they allowed in the 1st quarter, the Lady Raiders would lead 47-20 going into the final eight minutes of regulation.
Other than what ended up being a 16-8 run by Upper Arlington in the 2nd quarter to get back into the game, the final outcome was never in doubt, as Reynoldsburg would eventually run out the clock in a stress-free 4th quarter in an eventual 61-32 win. Just like that, the Lady Raiders achieved redemption one year after being upset in last year’s district finals on the same floor, but Reynoldsburg now has earned the opportunity to do even more: win it all.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, while they are clear contenders to go all of the way in the field of the final 16 Division I Girls Basketball teams remaining in the 2019 OHSAA Tournament, what the Lady Raiders have done this season has been nothing short of amazing. Even more, their team chemistry has improved drastically as the year has gone on, they have grown extremely close both on and off the court, and they have shown that they will take away things from this season that are much bigger than basketball.
“Sometimes, this game is more than just about winning and losing; it’s about some of the lessons, sacrifices, perseverance, and pride,” Purtell went on to say. “That’s kind of the way I feel right now. I am thankful I get to chance to coach these kids. I just think that we built a trust when we went on our trip [to Wilmington, DE]. We try to do it every year, but some years it is more successful than others. But this year, I just felt like with the teambuilding that we did in the tournament, something just clicked.”
Keep those seatbelts on and enjoy this ride, Raider Nation.
Destiny Fields- 21 points
Uju Ezeudu- 20 points
Bre Johnson- 5 points
Alexia Mobley- 4 points
Leah Goodwin- 3 points
Malaysia Miller- 2 points
Jamiona Ross- 2 points
Nico White- 2 points
NEXT UP + COLUMBUS REGIONAL PREVIEW:
For the third time in the last four seasons, #5-seeded Reynoldsburg (20-6) will advance to the regional semifinals, where they will play #2-seeded Newark (23-3) in a rematch of a 69-56 road loss by the Lady Raiders on December 18th, 2018: the first of what ended up being three straight losses before their current 16-1 stretch. However, Reynoldsburg’s defense has significantly improved since this game, as the Lady Raiders have allowed an average of 36.9 points per game in their last 17 games, including 26.8 points per game on average allowed in the 2019 postseason.
Tip against the Lady Wildcats will be at 8:00pm on Tuesday March 5th, 2019 at the Rike Center of Otterbein University in the second of two regional semifinals games that night.
These two teams also met the previous two times Reynoldsburg advanced to the regional level of the OHSAA Tournament and split these two meetings. The Lady Raiders won 53-46 in the regional finals against Newark on March 5th, 2016 to advance to the Final Four, but would be eliminated in the regional semifinals by the Lady Wildcats the following postseason on March 9th, 2017 after losing 72-40.
The winner of the game between the Lady Raiders and Lady Wildcats would advance to the regional finals at Otterbein University on Friday March 8th, 2019 against the winner of #1-seeded and defending state champion Pickerington Central (25-1) and #6-seeded Westerville South (20-5). They will tip in the first regional semifinals game at 6:15pm, and have both played the Lady Raiders this regular season.
Reynoldsburg defeated Westerville South 68-37 on January 23rd, 2019, though lost both regular season meetings against arch-rival Pickerington Central. While the Lady Raiders lost 71-47 at home against the Lady Tigers on December 21st, 2018, their rematch on February 1st, 2019 was a lot closer. What ended up being a 56-48 loss by Reynoldsburg at Pickerington Central ended up being the Lady Raiders’ only loss in their last 17 games.
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