Two years ago as a freshman, Taco Charlton of the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team thought that basketball would provide his figurative meal ticket to athletic success.

Two years ago as a freshman, Taco Charlton of the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team thought that basketball would provide his figurative meal ticket to athletic success.

That was before he became a football prospect, helped the Tigers' football team to a Division I state runner-up finish last December and verbally committed to the University of Michigan in February. But being part of history, as he was when he helped the basketball team to its first state tournament berth, was not lost on Charlton.

"Not a lot of people can say they got to the final four in both football and basketball, let alone the same year," Charlton, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, said after Central defeated Canton McKinley 60-51 in a Division I regional final March 17 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. "Just to get there and help both teams toward a state championship is just a great feeling.

"Actually, coming into high school I thought I'd be a basketball player. I didn't quite foresee becoming a football prospect, but I have a great relationship with coach (Jerry) Francis and I love him to death. Just to come in and help this team out and help him out as a coach and try to create a legacy as a basketball school is also great."

The Tigers, who are 24-2, will play Fairfield in a state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, at Ohio State. The winner will play Lakewood St. Edward or Toledo Whitmer in the state final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24.

Central jumped out to a 12-2 lead against McKinley in the first four minutes and never trailed. The Bulldogs pulled within one point at 50-49 with just under three minutes left, but the Tigers held McKinley to 1-for-8 shooting down the stretch and sophomore guard Jae'Sean Tate put an exclamation point on the win with a dunk with 51 seconds to play.

Tate finished with 15 points to lead the Tigers. Caris LeVert had 14 points, Connor Kern scored 11 and Charlton added 10.

"I just told them (during a timeout with 2:58 left), 'Don't get flustered, don't get discombobulated, just continue to play hard and give great effort and great intensity,'" Francis said. "They were going to make their run. Now we have to respond."

Pickerington also won district titles in 1959, 1991 and 2002 but wasn't able to take the next step.

"It's a great feeling," LeVert said. "We just put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and we see it paying off right now."

Central advanced to the regional final by holding off Olentangy Liberty 60-58 in a regional semifinal March 15. LeVert had 28 points, including 16 of the Tigers' 18 points during a stretch of the second half. Tate scored 12 points and Javon Bess scored 10.

Central built a 31-21 halftime lead, then had to withstand several second-half runs by Liberty, which was making its first regional tournament appearance.

The Patriots got within four points on five occasions and trailed 44-42 with 7:02 left before LeVert hit a 10-foot jump shot, a running layup and a 3-pointer to make it 51-42 with 4:16 to play.

Charlton had seven rebounds.

"We just want to stay hungry and humble," LeVert said. "We think we've done a great job of that. Just keep working hard in practice and keep working hard in games."