COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Saturday's Division I district final finale at the Columbus Convention Center pitted a program looking for its first title in school history against another looking for its 24th.
In the fourth quarter, history reigned supreme as No. 9 Newark used a 10-0 run to power past No. 13 Olentangy Orange, 64-53.
While Newark led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, Orange stormed back with a vengeance to cut the deficit to 43-42 with 6:36 to go.
When it seemed as if the game's momentum was ready to swing Orange's way, Newark responded with a run that ultimately decided the game.
Going to its senior leader Keshawn Heard just 17 seconds later, the 6-foot-7 forward hit a crucial corner three that sparked a 10-0 run that spanned the next three minutes. Two free throws from sophomore Drew Ballinger, who had a coming of age moment in the first half, capped off the run as Newark led 53-42 with 3:19 to play.
From that point forward, Orange never got any closer than six points, as Newark executed at the line and prevented the late game turnovers that nearly led to an upset to Walnut Ridge in the district semifinals on Wednesday.
Junior guard Bobby Crenshaw put the finishing touches on the district title with a big dunk in transition that put the Wildcats ahead 61-51 with 52 seconds remaining.
Cutting down its first pair of nets since Wildcat legend Jordan Dartis led Newark over Tri-Valley in the 2015 district finals, the area's most prestigious program is now moving on to the regional tournament.
Leading Newark with 20 points in a breakout game, Ballinger reestablished the type of rhythm that might be what Newark needs to advance a game further in the tournament. After going 0-for-7 from three and scoring zero points in the district semifinals, Ballinger made his impact instantly in the first quarter.
Knocking down four big threes from the 4:23 mark until the 1:06 mark of the first quarter, Ballinger helped spark a 14-5 Newark run that put the Wildcats in front.
Leading 39-37 early on in the fourth quarter, Ballinger knocked down his final triple of the game, a back breaking three that gave Newark some breathing room.
Heard added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, making key plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter that led to the victory. Crenshaw and junior forward Jaden Woods each added 10 points while sophomore guard Kade Bafford and junior guard Kadin Robison each poured in five points a piece.
Crenshaw did an outstanding job defending Olentangy Orange senior guard Bryson Lane, holding him to four points in the first half. Lane didn't waste much time getting back on track in the second half, scoring 17 points after halftime and fueling a 15-4 run in the final 7:42 of the third quarter that put the Pioneers in a position to win the game.
Finishing with 21 points, Lane wraps up a great career where he improved as much as any player in the area over the course of four years. The 5-foot-9 warrior of a floor general will now transition to Division III Ohio Wesleyan where he should have an outstanding college career.
Outside of Lane, senior forward Nik Brannon had a strong showing on both ends, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Brannon, a 6-foot-5 unsigned forward, knocked down two threes and showed off great versatility on the defensive end.
Rounding out the scoring for Orange was senior Luke Ballinger with nine points and sophomore guard Andre Irvin with seven points. Irvin's final field goal of the game came with 6:36 to cut the deficit to 43-42.
After knocking off top-seeded Dublin Coffman on Wednesday in the district semifinals, Orange's run comes to an end at the Convention Center. The Pioneers' group of seniors have a lot to be proud about, as they took this program further than any team since 2013.
For Newark, the Wildcats are district champions for the first time since the season before 270 Hoops was founded. The Wildcats will take on No. 5 Pickerington North in a rematch of the 2017 district finals.
Wednesday's regional semifinal matchup will take place at 7 p.m. at Ohio Dominican.