Pickerington High School Central boys basketball coach Jerry Francis' deep, bass voice usually has no problem resonating.
Francis was heard loud and clear by his fellow Division I district coaches during the tournament draw Feb. 10 at Gahanna, shouting "10" to indicate the line he picked loudly enough that several colleagues started to laugh.
That also is the Tigers' seed, and to make a run at a second consecutive state championship they'll have to vie with the likes of fourth-seeded New Albany, fifth-seeded Dublin Scioto, sixth-seeded Zanesville and seventh-seeded Dublin Coffman just to win a district title.
"It's always something different here at seeding time," Francis said of the loaded bracket. "We just have to handle our business and take it one game at a time. If our guys remember to do that, we should be fine."
Central opens at home against 14th-seeded Delaware on Feb. 23. The winner visits Scioto in a second-round game Feb. 27.
Francis hopes the Tigers are two-time defending OCC-Ohio Division champions by the time the postseason starts. They are 10-3 in the league, and Newark was 9-3 before its Feb. 12 game at Gahanna. Newark defeated Central 55-50 on Feb. 5 to tighten the race.
Reynoldsburg and Grove City both are 9-4 in the OCC-Ohio entering their league and regular-season finales Friday, Feb. 15, against Groveport and Pickerington North, respectively.
The Tigers play host to Gahanna and Newark plays at Lancaster that night.
"We got into a tough stretch losing two (79-66 at Grove City on Feb. 1, then against Newark) but we bounced back," Francis said. "I hope we can finish with a conference championship. I'm excited about where we are. We just have to finish strong."
Central might be headed in that direction. Junior forward Jae'Sean Tate scored 22 points and junior guard Connor Kern added 18 on Feb. 8 in a 77-49 win at Groveport, and the next night Tate scored 25 and Kern had 12 in a 98-61 win at Independence. It was the Tigers' highest scoring output since a 93-91 overtime win at Grove City on Jan. 6, 2012.
"We have some momentum," Francis said. "We've had some slow starts so we needed to get something going. We were good in our full-court game (against Groveport and Independence) and guys were able to perform. We have to continue this. We don't have a choice this week."
Panthers heading to the City
Citing some familiarity with City League teams, North coach Pete Liptrap opted to have the Panthers visit Walnut Ridge for a first-round district tournament game Feb. 23.
"When you're (the) 25th (pick in the district draw) you're not going to have a great choice anywhere. But we've played them in the past and we have some familiarity with them," Liptrap said. "We didn't play them this year but I did see them against Eastmoor (Academy). You just don't have a lot of choices, and I thought that would put us in a game we could compete in in the first round."
The Panthers are 10-11 overall and 4-9 in the OCC-Ohio entering their regular-season finale at Grove City. North split two games this past weekend, losing to Gahanna 65-47 on Feb. 8 and beating Dresden Tri-Valley 51-39 the next night.
Senior guard Devon Price had 16 points and sophomore point guard Dajon Moore added 12 against Tri-Valley. Senior forward Desmond Palmer had eight points and 11 rebounds and the Panthers had 15 steals.
"Our seniors did a good job of leading us. It's good to get wins late in the year," Liptrap said.
"We're trying to get better and I think we did that (against Tri-Valley). Hopefully, we can go on the road and play a solid game Friday then get honed in for the tournament."