Pickerington Times-Sun

Girls Basketball

Coach: Defense holds key to Tigers' success

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Pickerington High School Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth stopped short of saying his team will be in trouble if it gets into a high-scoring game during the Division I district tournament.

Despite the fact the Tigers survived an at-times back-and-forth contest to defeat Newark 63-52 in an OCC-Ohio Division game Feb. 4, and were 10-1 when scoring 60 points or more before visiting Pickerington North on Feb. 11, Hedgepeth hopes defense rules the day when fifth-seeded Central begins the postseason. The Tigers play host to 42nd-seeded Olentangy Orange at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17.

"For us, it's too much offense," Hedgepeth said. "Even though we were scoring (against Newark), that's not a good thing for us. As I've been saying all year, we're going to win games on the defensive end.

"Our main focus (is) to come out and really defend. (Against Newark), we weren't in major foul trouble. We had a few girls with two, but we really wanted to come out and play as hard as we could. I think we're deep to the point that if we get into foul trouble, we could make adjustments."

Twins Aajah and Amari Hawkins usually pace the Tigers' defensive effort. The 5-foot-8 seniors, both Florida International signees, have thrived on speed and solid hand-eye coordination dating to their freshman years. Aajah is a four-year starter, and Amari has started for three years.

Amari was averaging 8.1 points, six rebounds and three steals before Feb. 11. Aajah was averaging 5.8 points, three rebounds and three steals.

"We're pretty similar in most of the things we do. It's a question of who will shine on a given day," Amari said. "Aajah locks down anybody. She's good at her hustle and her drive to the hoop and her mid-range jumper."

Moments later and out of Amari's earshot, Aajah paid similar compliments to her sister.

"I think of my sister as an all-around player," Aajah said. "She hustles, she gets rebounds and she'll play strong defense."

According to Hedgepeth, sometimes that strong defense can get the sisters into trouble.

"Their coordination is so quick - I've never seen anything like it - and in some games, officials haven't seen the kind of instinct they have," Hedgepeth said. "Once (against Newark), Amari late in the game took the ball out of a girl's hand and he called a grab. I thought that was an anticipation foul. But their instincts are so good. That's just the way they play."

Central was 15-6 overall and 9-4 in the OCC-Ohio before playing North.

Orange finished the regular season 2-20 overall and 2-12 in the OCC-Capital. The Pioneers are 0-8 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

The first-round winner plays host to Dresden Tri-Valley in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19. That winner will play 13th-seeded Olentangy, 33rd-seeded Licking Heights or 34th-seeded Logan in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Hamilton Township.

Central did not play any of those teams during the regular season.

Unlike Hedgepeth, some Tigers players said they were not surprised at being seeded fifth.

"I knew that we deserved a high seed after all we've put in and shown people what we can do," Aajah Hawkins said.

"It's greatly appreciated because we worked so hard this year," Amari Hawkins said. "That shows others respect us and notice what we've been doing. That's all we want is respect when it comes to our team. We want to honor that 5 seed and do well in the tournament."

Butcher fine with North's tourney draw

Handed the 14th seed in the Division I district tournament, North coach Dave Butcher's choice of spots on the bracket was limited.

He chose a spot in the same bracket as fourth-seeded Northland and seventh-seeded Westerville North - and then waited for an opponent. And waited.

Finally, 43rd-seeded Dublin Scioto slotted itself opposite the Panthers for a second-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at North.

"There were a lot of things we liked about the bracket," said Butcher, whose team was 11-10 overall and 7-6 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Central on Feb. 11.

"One thing is it allows us to continue to get healthier. Jordan (Toohey) and Brittany (Johnson) are getting back into the swing of things better every day. And we know Westerville North and Northland are solid teams, but from what we've seen in our conference with Reynoldsburg, Gahanna, Central, teams like that, we've seen a lot. Our bracket allows us not to match up with them again."

Toohey and Johnson returned in recent weeks from leg and knee injuries, respectively, sustained last summer. Johnson scored 20 points in a 65-60 double-overtime loss to Gahanna on Feb. 7.

Scioto, which North did not play during the regular season, is 2-20 overall and finished 2-12 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"They're a young program with a first-year coach (Jen Clark)," Butcher said. "I'm not big on taking that first-round bye, but this was a good place for us and it's the best route for us to get to (a) district (semifinal)."

The winner plays seventh-seeded Westerville North, 30th-seeded Dublin Jerome or 35th-seeded Independence in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Jonathan Alder.

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