POWELL, Ohio -- Not only does Henry Hinkle have the best hair in Central Ohio, he might be the best facilitating senior point guard in the area as well. Going off for 11 points and 10 assists, Hinkle led a massive third quarter rally which helped No. 5 Olentangy Liberty blow by No. 13 Newark for a Division I district title, 57-45.
After upsetting No. 4 Thomas Worthington on Wednesday, Newark came hot out of the gates on Saturday, jumping all over Olentangy Liberty in a 12-4 start to the game. The Patriots managed to rally back behind spirited play from Hinkle, as his elite skip pass to the weakside corner out of the pick and roll led to a four-point play from Cooper Davis, knotting the game at 20 midway through the second quarter.
With Newark starting point guard Kade Bafford out with two fouls for a decent chunk of the period, Olentangy Liberty seemed to thrive, as the Patriots outscored Newark 14-8 in the frame to head into halftime with a 26-25 lead.
Olentangy Liberty started off the second half with more great point guard play from Hinkle, as his transition dime to Ty Foster resulted in a major three-point play, putting the Patriots ahead 31-25 with 6:17 remaining in the frame.
Newark fought back, as a three from rising junior Ethan Schell cut the deficit to one at 31-30 with five minutes to go in the third.
This is where Hinkle took over.
Scoring seven points and dropping off five assists in the third quarter alone, Hinkle fueled a 15-2 run to end the quarter, as the Patriots went into the final frame leading 46-32.
In the fourth, Olentangy Liberty did not let their foot off the glass, as senior Andrew Wade went to work on the interior, finishing through contact, ripping down boards and always seeming to be near the ball at any given time.
With Newark trapping and hoping to force Olentangy Liberty into mistakes, the Patriots did not give in, milking the clock in the fourth quarter and not allowing the Wildcats to get any closer than 11 points.
On the final real possession of the game, Hinkle dumped off his 10th assist on a beautiful bounce pass from the top of the key to the right block to junior Trey Majidzadeh, who finished the layup and sent the Patriots into the regional semifinals for the second time in three years with a 57-45 victory.
Despite the slow start, Liberty dominated Newark in the middle quarters, outscoring the Wildcats 34-15. It was Hinkle who fueled that massive run, commanding both ends of the floor and keeping the Olentangy Liberty offense running with smooth rhythm.
Going up against one of the elite perimeter defenders in Newark's Bafford, Hinkle was able to do whatever he wanted for most of the night, getting loose off the dribble and constantly finding the open teammate. Hinkle is one of the elite passers in the area, as he has excellent full court vision and is so advanced in the ball screen game.
The senior dictated pace all game long, making the correct pace every single time and scoring when he needed to, the true mark of a traditional point guard. The district title win for Olentangy Liberty is their second in three years, as Hinkle becomes the first player in program history to play major minutes for two different district title teams. After cutting his teeth as a sophomore on a senior laden team in Liberty's run to the 2019 state tournament, Hinkle has taken over the reigns of this program and turned in back-to-back first team all-district type seasons.
Wade had a massive showing on the interior, finishing with 17 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-7 senior is a load to handle inside and in transition, as he is like a bull in a china shop when he gets going in the open floor. Wade was a monster on the glass tonight, creating several second chance opportunities for the Patriots.
One of the more underrated players on the team, Foster finished with 11 points and five rebounds. The 6-foot-5 wing is a polished role player that does his job at an elite level for this team.
Majidzadeh had a stellar night with nine points, four rebounds and two assists, providing great energy out of the gate for the Patriots. Rounding out the lineup, junior guard Cooper Davis finished with seven points, as his crucial four-point play in the second quarter erased the deficit for good for Olentangy Liberty.
For Newark, senior Drew Ballinger had another great showing with 17 points and four rebounds. The 6-foot-3 guard has a polished offensive game, as he can score it from every single level and is one of the most consistent three-point shooters in the area.
The star of Newark's 2019 district championship win, Ballinger ended his career with a great run in the tournament for the Wildcats who fell in the district final round for the second-consecutive season.
Bafford added 10 points, two rebounds and two steals. The 6-foot senior started every single game that he was healthy for in four years for Newark, embodying what it means to be a Wildcat. Bafford is an elite defensive specialist that is one of the most coachable and toughest players in the area.
A rising junior that we have been really impressed with this week, the junior Schell added nine points. Standing at about 6-foot-6, Schell has a pure shooting stroke from three with a high release. We look forward to seeing what Schell can do with more volume next season for the Wildcats who will have to replace 60 percent of the starting lineup.
Olentangy Liberty advances to the Division I regional semifinal where they will take on top-seeded Gahanna Lincoln on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Ohio Dominican.
While Gahanna Lincoln will be highly favored, Olentangy Liberty will still have a shot to knock off the Lions. Anything can happen in March when you have quality guard play and the Patriots have that with Hinkle running the show.