Tahleik Walker shrugged off any credit for the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team's late-season surge.
The Tigers haven't lost since the sophomore took over at point guard, bringing a six-game winning streak into its Division I district tournament opener Friday, March 2, at home against 22nd-seeded Walnut Ridge.
Walker, who played only sporadic minutes through the season's first 13 games, was promoted to the starting spot when Javohn Garcia was moved to shooting guard. Garcia had taken the spot of junior Jeremiah Francis, a North Carolina commit who has missed the entire season with a right knee injury.
"At first, I was nervous. Varsity games are fast and you have to get used to the speed," Walker said. "I think I'm good at controlling the pace, shooting a little bit and running the system. The coaches trust me to do that. I have to be the floor general. I can score if I want to, but I have to get everybody where they have to be."
Central is 13-8 and has not lost since Jan. 27, when it fell to Hilliard Bradley 54-33 in the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic at Ohio Dominican. The Tigers' winning streak began two nights later with a 72-56 win over Gahanna, a team they defeated again 79-60 on Feb. 16 and that they could meet a third time.
Coach Eric Krueger said personnel adjustments and perseverance led to the winning streak.
"They could have just folded the tent, maybe started worrying about AAU and other things that are going on, but they are working just as hard now as they were earlier in the year and started to turn the corner," Krueger said. "We talked to them about playing together and being unselfish. They've done that really well over the past month."
Krueger was uncertain late last week whether Francis will be able to play against Walnut Ridge. Francis underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Dec. 12 and originally had expected to return in late January. According to Krueger, he has been able to increase his workload in recent weeks.
"We came together more, did more team bonding things like team meals, and talked a lot more about our roles and how we play," Garcia said. "We've just stuck together and kept doing what we've been doing. The outcomes have been good. We've trusted each other."
Central is seeded ninth in the district. The semifinal winner plays seventh-seeded Gahanna or 41st-seeded Briggs in a district semifinal Wednesday, March 7, at a neutral site to be determined. That winner advances to a district final March 10 at Ohio Dominican.
"We've put a lot of effort in just to fine-tune things and control what we can control," Krueger said. "If we can take of business, then we probably get to see Gahanna again, and it's never easy to see a team in your league for a third time. But we've been playing well. We are more focused on getting ready for (Walnut Ridge), then we'll go from there and see what happens."
Eberhardt places 16th at state swim meet
Nathen Eberhardt of the boys swimming team displayed consistency in his first Division I state meet, finishing 16th in the 100-yard backstroke Feb. 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Eberhardt posted a time of 51.96 seconds in both the preliminary Feb. 23 and the consolation final the next day. That was .88 of a second better than his fifth-place effort in the district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University.
"It couldn't have been better. I am enjoying the experience," Eberhardt said. "Being here for the finals, it's extremely exciting. You get that blood rushing to your brain and have to process everything that is going on."
Eberhardt was Central's only state qualifier. He earned the Tigers one point and a 51st-place finish behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (413) as 51 teams scored.
"It's a mindset attitude for him. He needs to decide when he's going to be good and he didn't know what that meant until this year," coach Justin Dortch said. "It's been terrific to see him succeed."
In the OCC-Ohio Division meet Jan. 27 at Thomas Worthington, Eberhardt was second in the 500 freestyle and third in the 200 individual medley as Central scored 113.5 points to finish sixth behind Gahanna (297), Lancaster (238), Reynoldsburg (200.5), Pickerington North (178) and Grove City (172).
Junior Kolya Larson's third-place finish in the 100 breaststroke in the league meet led the girls team, which scored 133 points to place fourth behind North (389), Gahanna (249) and Lancaster (229) and ahead of Grove City (116) and Reynoldsburg (77).
In a sectional Feb. 10 at Upper Arlington, the boys finished eighth (73) behind the host and champion Golden Bears (327) as 13 teams scored. The girls were ninth (58) behind UA (328) as 15 teams scored.
At district, the boys scored 26 points to tied Canal Winchester for 19th behind champion Dublin Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored, and the girls finished 25th (6) behind champion UA (274) as 30 teams scored.
Eberhardt is among 10 district qualifiers expected to return, along with classmates Jason Orr, Matt Phelan and Joe Phillips and his younger brother, freshman Brett Eberhardt, on the boys team. On the girls side, district qualifiers expected to return are Larson, juniors Paige Burton and Natalie Reed, sophomore Paige Christy and freshman Lauren LaVilla.
Seven wrestlers heading to district
Seven members of the wrestling team will compete in the Division I district tournament Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, at Hilliard Darby.
In a 10-team sectional Feb. 24 at UA, Grey Brancifort went 3-0 to win the 220-pound championship and Central scored 172 points to finish fourth behind champion Dublin Coffman (212).
Other district qualifiers are Bo Branson (106, second, 2-1), James Castro (heavyweight, third, 3-1), Noah Dotson (132, third, 4-1), Silas Pearson (170, third, 3-1), Marcus Zullo (145, third, 4-1) and Trevor Mangahas (113, fourth, 2-2).
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district.
Also competing but failing to advance were Blake Benson (126, fifth, 1-2), Grant Meeks (195, fifth, 3-2), Alex Epps (182, sixth, 1-3), Dae'vyion Hargrow (152, sixth, 2-3), Devin Hargrow (160, 1-2) and Carter Wade (120, 0-2).
At district, the top four finishers in each weight class advance to state March 8-10 at Ohio State.
Girls basketball team routs Rangers
The girls basketball team recorded its fourth win by at least 40 points in its past five games, routing visiting and 48th-seeded Hamilton Township 82-8 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23.
Maliya Perry's 14 points paced the Tigers, who led 28-2 after the first quarter and 53-3 at halftime in improving to 22-2 and advancing to a district semifinal Feb. 28 against 33rd-seeded Hilliard Davidson.
The semifinal winner plays 10th-seeded Eastmoor Academy or 23rd-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a district final Saturday, March 3, at Ohio Dominican.
The Tigers are seeking their third consecutive district championship.
The district champion will play Big Walnut, Gahanna, Hartley or Reynoldsburg in a regional semifinal Tuesday, March 6, at Otterbein. That winner advances to a regional final March 9 at Otterbein.
Central defeated Gahanna 59-53 on Dec. 5 and 75-68 on Jan. 13 and split two games with co-league champion Reynoldsburg, winning 56-50 in overtime on Dec. 22 and losing 55-50 on Feb. 2.
Boys bowlers qualify for district
The boys bowling team earned its first Division I district tournament berth Feb. 23 when it finished 13th (3,249) in the 38-team sectional at HP Lanes behind champion Westerville Central (3,836).
Ethan Fisher bowled a 470 three-game series to finish 63rd. Also scoring were Zach Dewey (tied for 86th, 447), Logan Gray (tied for 143rd, 314), Justin Sutherland (156th, 291), Evan Tailford (tied for 160th, 282), Jaret Negron (168th, 253) and Ryan Smith (216th, 100).
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams at sectional advanced to district Saturday, March 3, at HP Lanes.
The girls' season came to an end when they finished 32nd (2,307) in the 37-team sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes behind champion Gahanna (3,642). Scoring were Kate Merkel (86th, 388), Frankie Moore (tied for 116th, 333), Victoria Deeds (tied for 133rd, 304), Kiara Kozak (tied for 139th, 293), Kathy Burgess (176th, 178) and Marissa Vidmar (198th, 102).
At district, the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to state March 9 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Girls lacrosse coach named
Brian Walton recently was named girls lacrosse coach.
Walton, who has been an assistant coach for the past five seasons, succeeded Maggie Bornhorst, who resigned last July and now coaches at Bexley.
Walton has coached various levels of lacrosse in Pickerington since 2006 and has coached in the football program since 2003. He currently coaches seventh-grade football at Ridgeview Junior High School.
"I want to instill the same type of culture with our girls lacrosse program that football has," Walton said.
"Our football program is successful because everyone is committed, from coaches to players. The coaches work hard for the kids and it makes the kids want to work hard for their coaches. I want our girls (lacrosse) program to get to a point where everyone buys in and commits themselves to the team's success."
Bornhorst went 38-15-1 in three seasons with the Tigers. Last spring, Central finished 9-9 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Central, second behind eventual Division I state champion UA, and lost to Jerome 20-3 in a Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal.
Walton's son, 2013 Central graduate Brent, and his daughter, Kat, who graduated from Central in 2016, both played lacrosse for the Tigers and went on to play at Capital.
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
SWIMMING & DIVING
*Finishes: Boys -- Sixth in OCC-Ohio, eighth at sectional, tied for 19th at district, finished 51st at state; Girls -- Fourth in OCC-Ohio, ninth at sectional, 25th at district
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Joey Held; Girls -- None
*Key returnees: Boys -- Brett Eberhardt, Nathen Eberhardt, Jason Orr, Matt Phelan and Joe Phillips; Girls -- Paige Burton, Paige Christy, Kolya Larson, Lauren LaVilla and Natalie Reed