Olentangy Berlin’s girls basketball program has never won more than 11 games in a season, but a 38-33 win over once-beaten Dublin Jerome pushed the Bears to 9-1 and provided a big confidence boost going forward.
Dublin, OH – Olentangy Berlin High School won’t celebrate its sixth birthday until August, but Bears girls basketball coach Brock Cunningham couldn’t help but take a proverbial bite of the cake a bit early after a signature win Friday.
“I know we haven’t been around very long, but that’s got to be the biggest win in program history,” Cunningham said after Berlin notched a 38-33 victory at Dublin Jerome in an Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division game pitting one-loss teams and ascending programs. “That was just a monster win for our program, our kids, our coaches, our fans and all the young girls coming up.”
Senior guard Layla Merriweather chuckled when asked if she thought in the preseason Berlin would be 9-1 in the first week of the New Year.
“Uh, I’d say I was 50-50 on that,” she said. “Last season started off kind of rough, so this is certainly different. Having never won this much before, it’s kind of hard to say you expected it. But I’ll say this: This win on the road against a really good opponent gives us a little more confidence that we can compete against some of the better teams in our conference.”
And the Cardinal is arguably the best conference in Central Ohio, with Olentangy (11-0, 4-0) and defending regional finalist Marysville (9-1, 3-1) perceived as leaders of the pack, with new kids on the block Berlin (9-1, 3-1) and Jerome (9-2, 2-2) nipping at their heels.
Both Berlin and Jerome are well on the way to setting program records for wins in a season. Berlin has won 11 games twice (2019 and 2020) and went 10-14, 4-6 last season. Twice, and most recently in 2023, Jerome amassed 14 wins.
Merriweather, a 5-foot-6 guard who has signed with Division II Wheeling Jesuit, played a significant role in this intriguing matchup. She scored 16 of her game-high 21 points in the first half as the Bears wiped out an early 6-0 deficit. Berlin didn’t score until its seventh possession halfway through the opening quarter, but responded with a 7-0 run that turned this into a topsy-turvy affair with 10 leads changes and three ties.
“We hadn’t played since the Hilliard Darby game (Dec. 22) so maybe that was partly responsible for our cold start,” Cunningham said. “It was probably as much their defense causing us a lot of problems. They were really pushing us back on the perimeter and making things tough for us. We have some gamers, though, and they figured it out.”
In the final minute of the half, Merriweather – who came in scoring 18 points per game – banked in a three-point shot from 25 feet and beat the buzzer with another tightly-defended trey to give Berlin a 21-17 lead.
The Bears clung to a lead of two, three or four points all the way to the final 80 seconds of the contest.
Kendall Baird nailed a three from the left wing at the 1:19 mark to pull Jerome into a 33-33 tie.
Junior Cami Elliott countered with a strong shot from the left baseline to give the Bears a 35-33 lead. Earlier in the quarter, the right-hander made a 15-foot half hook with her left hand.
“Cami is our floor general and she’s steady Eddie for us,” Cunningham said. “She’s cold blooded and she proved that with those clutch baskets down the stretch.”
As for the half hook, Elliott – who averages 10.6 points and 5.6 assists – smiled and said, “I’ve practiced that spin move a lot, but I haven’t let it go from that far out before. I think the energy had something to do with it.”
The final minute featured three timeouts by Jerome, several tie-ups, a handful of fouls and some tight defense by Berlin. Merriweather sank three of four free throws to salt away the win.
Ellie Baker had nine points and 11 rebounds to pace Jerome, while Ashley Meadors chipped in eight points. They stand 6-1 and 5-11 respectively, and tried to attack Berlin with high-post and low-post moves.
But the Celtics wound up shooting just 28 percent from the field (14 of 50) – including 1-of-17 from three-point range – and made just 4-of-12 foul shots.
Jerome came in yielding just 32.8 points per game. Only one team has topped 40. In turn, Berlin is allowing under 44 points per game, so the defensive battle was no surprise.
“We put a big emphasis on swimming and getting around their screens,” Cunningham said. “I thought we really battled. Our post players didn’t score much, but they were really gritty.”
Jerome second-year coach Karli Burkett called the defeat “tough to take,” but credited Berlin for its toughness.
As Karli Bonar, she was a Ms. Basketball finalist and two-time East District player of the year during a decorated career at Shadyside. She is among Ohio’s all-time leaders in season and career three-point shots made and also owns Findlay University’s career three-point records.
“We were getting looks, but we just weren’t making shots,” Burkett said. “It was frustrating to watch, but that’s just the way basketball goes sometimes.”
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