Pickerington High School North baseball coach Tim Thomas and his counterpart at Pickerington Central, Andy Takos, were sitting four tables apart at the Division I district tournament draw May 5 at Central.
If they have their way, they'll be across the field from one another during a district final May 22 at Otterbein University.
North earned the top seed and Central the 12th, and after splitting two regular-season games with the Panthers, the Tigers picked a spot in the same bracket as their rival. Both took first-round byes. North opens the postseason at home against 33rd-seeded Reynoldsburg or 37th-seeded Delaware at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, the same time Central plays host to OCC-Ohio Division rival Newark, the 34th seed.
Was Thomas surprised?
"No, no, not at all," said Thomas, whose team received 1,608 votes from district coaches to edge second-seeded Olentangy Orange (1,583). "It's a situation where coaches think about matchups. Last time we played them, they beat us 6-0 (on April 25, two days after North beat Central 9-0).
"(Takos) is thinking matchups. I am not surprised at all."
One matchup Takos pondered hadn't occurred at the time of the draw. He considered going into the same bracket as sixth-seeded Gahanna, which the Tigers played in a home-and-home OCC-Ohio series May 6 and 8, before choosing North's bracket.
The Lions defeated Central 2-1 on May 6.
"Looking at the possible semifinal matchup, we hadn't seen Gahanna yet this year. Not knowing what they had yet, we decided to go into the other bracket," said Takos, whose team was 14-7 overall before May 8. "Newark is a tough team, very tough. That's the matchup. I'm not surprised. (Assistant) coach (Ryan Daugherty) and I had an idea we might match up again seeing how close the two games were."
Central defeated Newark 2-0 on April 26 and 12-11 on May 2. The Tigers were outhit 3-2 in the first game, and scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to win the second game.
The Tigers-Wildcats winner will play 13th-seeded Hilliard Darby, 18th-seeded Lancaster or 27th-seeded Canal Winchester in a district semifinal May 20 at Olentangy.
North previously was the top seed in 2009 and 2011. In 2009, North advanced to the Division I state final, losing to Cincinnati Moeller 5-2. Two years later, the Panthers lost to 22nd-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 2-1 in a district semifinal.
"It's always great to be acknowledged for what you've done in the regular season," said North senior outfielder/pitcher Ryan Miller, a Miami University signee. "But two years ago, we were the No. 1 seed and got eliminated pretty early. We have a target on our back, and we have to keep playing the way we have been."
North defeated Reynoldsburg in two OCC-Ohio meetings, 8-7 on April 22 and 21-8 in six innings April 30. In the first game, the Raiders scored three runs in the top of the seventh to take a 7-4 lead, only to have the Panthers score four in the bottom of the inning to win.
The Panthers did not play Delaware during the regular season.
The second-round winner will play 16th-seeded Central Crossing, 22nd-seeded Hilliard Davidson or 32nd-seeded Briggs in a district semifinal May 20 at Dublin Coffman.
Entering the week, the postseason took a backseat to the OCC-Ohio race for both Pickerington teams. Central played Gahanna on May 6 and 8 and North had an important home-and-home series against Grove City on May 7 and 8.
The Tigers split their series with Grove City, winning 8-7 in eight innings April 22 and losing 9-7 on April 30.
The Panthers, who were 20-3 overall and 10-2 in the OCC-Ohio before May 7, entered the week one game ahead of Central and Grove City, both of which were 9-3 in the league.
Central dropped to 9-4 with its loss to Gahanna on May 6. North was on top because of a 3-2 win over Gahanna on May 1 in which it scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Senior pitcher/catcher Matt Poland lined a single to left field for the winning RBI.
"We've had a lot of close games this year and we never thought we were out of the game," Thomas said.
"This time of year, that's what we stress -- focus every at-bat, every pitch and don't look at the next inning or the next game. That's the mindset you have to have this time of year."