Chris Robbins is in his first season as Pickerington High School North boys lacrosse coach, but it hasn't taken him long to figure out what makes his team's next opponent tick.
Similarly to a year ago, Pickerington Central will take an explosive offense into what will be the fifth meeting between the Panthers and Tigers at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at North.
Tigers midfielder Devon Maki scored eight goals as his team beat North 14-11 last season, and Maki had a team-best 59 goals before Central played Wellington on May 15.
Central is 5-0 in the OCC-Central Division and has earned at least a share of the title, while the Panthers are 4-1 and looking for a share of the championship.
North won the first two matchups between the programs, but Central has won the last two.
The game originally was scheduled for May 10, but was postponed because of bad weather.
"(Central) can score," Robbins said. "They have the ability to put the ball in the net. We've played a few of the same teams and they've put in a few more goals than we have, but we're anchored by our defense. I love the guys on our defense and they want to play hard. They're passionate, physical and they work together. All three of our defenders are talented, athletic and have great footwork."
Central was 12-2 overall before May 15, with its only losses coming by one goal to St. Charles (9-8 on April 25) and Thomas Worthington (8-7 on May 8).
North had won eight of 10 and was 9-7 after defeating Hilliard Bradley 14-4 on May 13. It played Olentangy on May 15.
The Division I tournament drawing is Sunday, May 19.
Tasked with holding a Central offense led by Maki and senior midfielder Brent Walton in check are senior defenders Seth Caudill and Dom Robson, sophomore defender Stephan Hertenstein and senior goalkeeper Nate Hess.
Maki, who was the OCC-Central Player of the Year last season, will play for Wilmington College. Walton has more than 30 goals and 30 assists and will play football and lacrosse at Capital.
Caudill will play for Wittenberg and Hess has committed to Otterbein.
"We've been playing hard," Central coach Pete Campbell said. "These guys are working their tails off. We're a gritty team. We're very close and we play together. We play as a team and I think that's got us to where we are."
The Panthers' offensive leaders have been senior attacker Austin Brady and sophomore midfielder Logan Murphy. Brady has scored more than 50 goals.
Junior Collin Morgan (defender) and senior Cole Naylor (goalkeeper) have led a Central defense that was expected to return junior Luke Rust from injury for the Wellington game. Rust has been out since April 10.
"We've got to stop Austin Brady," Campbell said. "He's a very good ballplayer and he runs their offense well. We've got to limit him and make someone else beat us. They have a good goalie, so we've got to take good shots on them."
North girls beat Central, win title
Hess might have played a small role in the North girls team winning its third consecutive OCC-Central championship May 10 on its home field.
The Panthers beat Central 18-9 to improve to 3-0 in the series.
"Right before the game, Nate Hess started saying, 'You better win this,' " senior defender Tianna DiYanni said. "We were hoping for this again. It's the third year in a row for us winning the OCC."
North, which beat Central 16-8 in 2011 and 19-5 a year ago, improved to 10-5-1 after its 16-8 win over Watterson in a Division I South/Central Region tournament opener May 13.
North played May 15 at Cincinnati St. Ursula Academy in a second-round game, with the winner to meet top-seeded Upper Arlington or Gahanna on Monday, May 20, in a regional semifinal. The regional final is May 23.
The Panthers went 7-0 to win the OCC-Central while Central settled for second at 6-1.
Against the Tigers, North got 11 goals and two assists from senior attacker Abbey Paulus and four goals from junior attacker Caroline Giardina.
Panthers goalkeeper Leah Homberger had eight saves.
"There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the game and it feels great," Paulus said. "We're really happy. We talked really well. There was a lot of (anticipation) coming into the game because they are our rivals and we had to not let it get the best of us."
For Central, sophomore attacker Carly Noel had four goals, junior midfielder Gabby Johnson scored three and sophomore midfielder Nessa Petropavlovskiy added two.
The Tigers finished 10-7 after losing to Dublin Scioto 15-8 in an opening Division I South/Central Region tournament game May 13 at Scioto.
Central, which lost to Scioto 9-7 on April 11, has just one senior.
"We have definitely grown this year," Johnson said. "It's just going to keep getting better. I'm definitely excited to see what the future has in store for us."