Taylor Johnson of the Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team expends so much energy on the court that she doesn't use many words describing her own abilities.

Taylor Johnson of the Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team expends so much energy on the court that she doesn't use many words describing her own abilities.

The 5-foot-9 junior made her name the past two seasons playing guard, but her height makes her the Tigers' tallest guard and their fourth-tallest player. So as first-year coach Johnathan Hedgepeth combed over his lineup and shuffled players on the floor, he found Johnson increasingly being drawn into the paint.

"We've played (against) some smaller guards lately and I wanted to take advantage of that mismatch," Hedgepeth said.

"Taylor is one of our stronger guards and she's been fortunate to get smaller defenders, too, so we could put her down in the post. Even when she's had a larger defender sometimes, it's worked out and she scored well."

Johnson was Central's leading scorer through eight games, averaging 16.2 points as the Tigers started 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio. She scored a career-high 25 points in a 62-53 win over Grove City on Dec. 20.

"I'm definitely gaining a comfort zone in the paint," Johnson said. "I'm finding my in-and-outs in the paint and if I can do both (play inside and outside), I will."

Johnson scored 20 points in a 71-44 win over Lancaster on Dec. 7, but she said one of her favorite performances was a game-high, 19-point effort in a 49-43 win over Pickerington North on Dec. 17. She had a layup and a 3-pointer as part of a 10-0 run spanning the first and second quarters that gave Central a 26-12 lead, in addition to several key rebounds and tips that helped keep possessions alive.

Johnson also made two free throws with 35.2 seconds to play for the game's final points.

She barely celebrated on the court afterward, instead exchanging handshakes with North players and maintaining a business-like demeanor.

"Our confidence was definitely a little down but getting this win, especially against our rival, will give us momentum," said Johnson, referring to losses against Reynoldsburg (44-34 on Dec. 13) and Northland (46-44 on Dec. 14). "Our plan was just to keep them off the perimeter mostly. They can hit 3s. They got us on 3s in the first half, but we shut them down in the second half."

Johnson earned varsity time immediately as a freshman, alternating between point guard and shooting guard under coach Angelita Forte. She continued in that role last year under coach James Stutzman, and Hedgepeth saw no reason to change things -- at first.

"I don't know if I envisioned that we'd be playing her in the post, but over the last couple games we've seen her accepting that role and doing a great job," Hedgepeth said. "She holds her own."

The only Central players taller than Johnson are 5-11 forward Allie Luther and 5-10 forwards Julisicia Jordan and Kenya Woodard.

Just as Johnson has spread her talents across the court, scoring has been spread across the team. Through eight games, Katrina Williams was averaging 15.9 points, followed by Amari Hawkins (6.8), Luther (6.5) and Aajah Hawkins (5.1).

But Hedgepeth is equally pleased with the team's defensive performance. Through the first six games, the Tigers didn't allow more than 46 points.

"We played hard-nosed defense and we're always telling the girls we want them to be very aggressive on the defensive end, but we also have to be cognizant of our fouls and make sure when we're aggressive, we're not overly aggressive," Hedgepeth said. "We need to make sure we win games on the defensive end."

Bench helping to carryload for Central boys

Three blowout wins in his team's first five games allowed Central boys coach Jerry Francis to play almost his entire roster.

The Tigers' usual starters have been guards Rodney Culver, Connor Kern and D.J. Tyree and forwards Jae'Sean Tate and Jalen Tate. Top contributors off the bench have included Andre Bradley, Dajon Moore, Parker Stewart and Will Patrick.

Bradley and Patrick have demonstrated an outside shooting touch, with Patrick scoring 10 points in a 95-43 win at Lancaster on Dec. 10. Twelve players scored in that game, nine scored in a 75-44 win over North on Dec. 17 and 11 scored in an 83-64 win at Grove City on Dec. 20 as the Tigers improved to 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio.

"I'm glad somebody noticed," coach Jerry Francis said.

"I was hearing about getting those kids a chance to play. Against Reynoldsburg (69-66 win Dec. 13), they played well, but yeah, the lead shrunk a little bit. I think it went from 19 to 13. We didn't run the floor well enough a few times and they were able to get some baskets on us to cut into the lead. But I like our young guys. I like what they can bring to the table. They did a good job, and the starters have to be able to maintain that and extend the lead."

The Tigers will make their second trip away from Columbus this season on Saturday, Dec. 28, when they participate in the Play 4 Cancer Shootout at Massillon Jackson. Central will play Jackson in the day's fourth and final game at approximately 7:45 p.m.

Other participating teams are Cleveland Central Catholic, Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Dublin Coffman, Leavittsburg LaBrae, Warrensville Heights and Watterson.

Durbin proves capablefor North boys

Listed on the North boys' junior varsity roster to start the season, guard Pat Durbin has worked his way into a regular role on varsity.

The 5-7 sophomore had seven assists and no turnovers in a 53-36 win over Lancaster on Dec. 13. He scored two points that night and two more in the loss at Central, but according to coach Jerry Groves, points are a secondary concern right now.

"He knows how to get the ball to pretty much anybody on the floor," Groves said. "He's been getting better about not turning the ball over."

Mykus Hall led North with eight points against Central and Nigel Harris added seven.

North was 1-5 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Ohio after losing to Reynoldsburg 52-43 on Dec. 20. The Panthers' next game is Monday, Dec. 30, at home against Thornville Sheridan.