As the Worthington Kilbourne bus left Pickerington High School Central on April 23, the Tigers softball team had received the message.

As the Worthington Kilbourne bus left Pickerington High School Central on April 23, the Tigers softball team had received the message.

"We realized we had to get our stuff together," Merissa Magers said, referring to a 6-2 loss to Kilbourne. "We had to step up and make some stuff happen. We needed to start talking to each other on the field and concentrate on hitting."

Before last Wednesday's game against Olentangy, Central had won three in a row since losing to Kilbourne. Still, the Tigers' quest for another OCC-Cardinal Division title was a little tougher as they were 5-2 in the league, behind Westerville South at 5-1. Central will play host to South on Monday. The Wildcats' game last Monday against Olentangy was postponed because of bad weather.

"I'm happy with the overall performance with the last couple of games," coach Dan Drees said. "The kids seem like they're pushing themselves harder, becoming more aggressive and it's paying off for us.

"We found out against Kilbourne there is no guarantee the second time around (in league play). It's a good league race overall."

Central is a young team and growing pains will occur. The Tigers were 4-1 through their first trip through league play, but it seemed not to be a coincidence the loss to Kilbourne was the beginning of the second round of league play.

"Just because you beat a team once doesn't mean they'll roll over and let you have the next game," Drees said. "Once you get beat, you know you have to do something a little different and give it more effort."

Central's final two league games are Monday against Westerville South and Wednesday at Mount Vernon. Central and South battled last year for the title with the Tigers winning both meetings.

In the first meeting April 16, Central led 5-1 before South scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh.

South, which was 10-7 overall before last Tuesday, is led by pitchers Ashley Byers and Jessica Eads. Byers is a fourth-year varsity player, and through 17 games had a 0.96 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. Eads had a 3-1 record with 45 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

"Byers didn't hurt us in that first game," Drees said. "She was wild the night they played us. We scored a few runs off her but their other pitcher, Eads, we had a hard time hitting."

As sophomores, Byers and Eads were members of a team that reached a Division I regional semifinal, falling to West Chester Lakota West 4-0.

Central's top pitcher, Long, had 64 strikeouts and a 1.45 ERA through 14 games. She sat out games last Friday and last Saturday as Mallory Martin earned wins over Lancaster and New Concord John Glenn. Long returned last Monday to pitch a four-hitter against Dublin Jerome.

Offensively, Casey Drees led the Tigers with a .417 batting average and 17 RBI in 14 games followed by Magers (.361) and Erin Lashley (.333).

"We have to continue to hit the ball," Magers said. "We have to get runners on and stay solid on defense."

According to Drees, the young players are not making physical mistakes, but the mental toughness needs to improve.

"Sometimes they let themselves down mentally," Drees said. "From a physical effort, we're fine, but sometimes we're not focused and we don't know what we need to do. That's where we need to continue to improve."

At a glance

Below are recent results and coming schedules for the Central and North softball teams:

CENTRAL

*April 21 -- Defeated Mount Vernon 2-1

*April 23 -- Lost to Worthington Kilbourne 6-2

April 24 -- Def. Lancaster 5-4. Kerry Gibson hit a grand slam in the first inning and and a solo home run in the third.

Last Friday -- Def. New Concord John Glenn 5-1 in Centennial Stellar Classic at Beekman Park

*Last Monday -- Def. Dublin Jerome 6-0

*Last Wednesday -- Played Olentangy

Friday -- At Olentangy Liberty. Central won 2-0 last season.

Saturday -- Home vs. Groveport and Vandalia Butler

*Monday -- Home vs. Westerville South

*Wednesday -- At Mount Vernon

Of note: The Tigers were 12-6 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Wednesday.

*OCC-Cardinal game

NORTH

*April 21 -- Lost to Thomas Worthington 4-1

April 22 -- Def. Dublin Scioto 18-3

*April 23 -- Lost to Marysville 6-2

Last Friday -- Def. Gates Mills Hawken 5-0 in Stellar Classic

Last Saturday -- Def. Strasburg-Franklin 5-0; def. Canal Winchester 6-5 in Stellar Classic

*Last Monday -- Def. Westerville Central 5-4

*Last Wednesday -- Played Delaware

Today -- At Gahanna. Teams did not play last season.

Friday -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial. North won 5-1 during the regular season and 7-2 in the second round of the Division I district tournament last year.

*Monday -- At Central Crossing. North lost 4-1 on April 16.

Tuesday -- At DeSales. The teams did not play last year.

*Wednesday -- Home vs. Thomas

Of note: The Panthers were 8-8 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Central before last Wednesday.

*OCC-Central game