Pickerington High School Central boys basketball players weren’t shy about admitting they wanted to play Newark in a Division I district final March 10 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
The Wildcats ruined the Tigers’ bid at a perfect OCC-Ohio Division season with a 51-35 victory Feb. 7, a game in which Central looked out of kilter and lacked composure much of the night.
Those weren’t problems in the district final, as Central pulled away with a 25-11 run spanning the middle quarters to beat Newark 65-49 for the program’s first district championship since 2002.
“It ruined our perfect season when we lost to (Cleveland) St. Ignatius (66-65 on Jan. 29), so we wanted to be perfect in the OCC and (Newark) ruined that, so we had to get them back for that today,” said Tigers sophomore guard Connor Kern, who scored a game-high 16 points. “I thought it was great to win the OCC and it feels even better to win the district.”
Central (22-2) will play Olentangy Liberty in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at the Fairgrounds. Third-seeded Liberty won its first district championship earlier March 10, defeating second-seeded Walnut Ridge 58-55 in overtime.
The Tigers’ other district championships came in 1959 and 1991.
Caris LeVert had 14 points and Chad Nelson added 11 for Central, which took an early 11-2 lead when Kern converted back-to-back steals into layups. A 9-2 run late in the first half made it 30-21 at halftime, and the Tigers led by as much as 20 late in the third quarter. Central was 21-for-40 shooting (52.5 percent) and held Newark to 15-for-45 (33.3 percent).
“Defense was the big key,” Central guard Jae’Sean Tate said. “We worked all week in practice on defense, going over their plays almost the entire practice just to come out and know what they were going to run.”
Daniel Logan had 10 points to lead Newark (19-5).
“They present some bad combinations for us because they’re so athletic and so skilled at the guard positions and when they spread you out, now you’re one-on-one with their post players who are so athletic and big,” Wildcats coach Jeff Quackenbush said. “They can make a much deeper run in the tournament. They’re going to be really hard to beat.”