Opening the Division I district tournament against a winless team and a one-win team, the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team got a few extra chances to mix and match its personnel in the wake of two season-ending injuries.

Opening the Division I district tournament against a winless team and a one-win team, the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team got a few extra chances to mix and match its personnel in the wake of two season-ending injuries.

Key in the Panthers' effort to win their ninth consecutive Division I district championship will be the play of freshman guard Emily Thomas and sophomore guard Jordan Toohey. Senior guard Jaila Bryant suffered a season-ending tear to the posterior cruciate ligament and a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in her right knee Feb. 7, less than two weeks after sophomore Jessie Wachtman sustained a broken collarbone.

"We have two options," coach Dave Butcher said at the tournament draw. "If we play small, Thomas is going to play, and if we play a little bigger, Toohey will get the call. We don't have a lot of depth now. That's the critical thing. Whoever we start, we just don't have a lot behind them. That's going to decide who we play down the line. We'll really need kids to step up in those seven through 10 spots, at least seven through nine.

"This team has been really resilient. We've been able to hang in with everything that's gone wrong and with young kids."

The second-seeded Panthers routed winless Westerville Central 75-25 in a first-round game Feb. 16 to advance to a second-round game Feb. 22 against Columbus West. That winner will play 10th-seeded Upper Arlington or 11th-seeded New Albany in a district semifinal at 8 p.m. March 1 at Hilliard Davidson.

Thomas and Toohey have been regular contributors the entire season. Thomas scored 10 points in her varsity debut, a 59-49 win over Upper Arlington on Nov. 26, and had a career-high 18 points five nights later in a 101-26 victory over Grove City.

Toohey had 14 points and 18 rebounds, 15 offensive, against Westerville Central. Brittany Johnson scored 17 points, Christy Macioce had 15 and senior guard Taylor Jones scored 14.

Butcher attributed much of the younger players' success to the example set by Bryant and Jones.

"Those two kids are experienced and they get a lot of respect from the girls," Butcher said. "With their practice effort and their work effort, it's reflective on what some of the younger kids have to do to achieve that level. It's been a situation that those girls are continuing to get better. That's good for us. We felt even with the loss of Jessie that we were in pretty good shape going into the tournament.

"This is another tough deal for us. We'll just have to work and hope for the best."

•The season concluded Feb. 15 for Central when it lost to eighth-seeded Central Crossing 30-25 in a first-round Division I district tournament game at Westerville South.

The Tigers, who finished 7-14 overall, took an 8-0 lead in the first 2 minutes, 14 seconds and led 12-5 after one quarter and 17-10 at halftime. The Comets - who also defeated the Tigers in their season opener, 49-36 on Nov. 29 - did not lead until Jalynn Graham put back an Olivia Davis miss with 3:10 left to make it 27-25.

Central Crossing, which advanced to play Newark in a second-round game Feb. 21, scored the game's final seven points.

"We just have to stay focused for 32 minutes. That's all of it," Tigers coach Angelita Forte said. "We came out and executed in the first half. We stayed focused in the first half. In the second half, we went a little cold. A couple shots we made in the first half didn't fall in the second half."

Junior guard Phylicia Johnson led Central offensively for the 14th time this season, scoring seven points. She averaged a team-best 8.3 points.

The Tigers tied Lancaster for fifth (6-8) in the OCC-Ohio Division, behind champion Reynoldsburg (14-0), Pickerington North (12-2), Gahanna (9-5) and Newark (8-6) and ahead of Grove City (2-12) and Groveport (0-14).

Although Central never won more than two consecutive games, progress was evident by late January. The Tigers lost back-to-back close games to North (50-45 on Jan. 24) and Gahanna (44-34 on Jan. 27), teams that defeated them by a combined 79 points in their first meetings, 73-27 on Dec. 9 and 67-34 on Dec. 16, respectively.

"The girls did a phenomenal job of improving from the first half of the season to the second half of the season," Forte said. "We have a lot of good things to look forward to. I'm looking forward to next year and what the future holds."

Perhaps the best news for the senior-less Tigers is their entire team is expected to return.

Johnson, who was named honorable mention all-league, is one of four juniors, along with guard Brianna Collins and forwards Morgan Tomsic and Alexis Newsome. The sophomores are guards Sky Mullins, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins and Kiana Thomas, and forwards Allie Luther and Kiana Thomas. The Tigers' two freshmen are guards Taylor Johnson and Katrina Williams.