Pickerington High School Central softball coach Jenny Young spent little if any time trying to predict how the Tigers' Division I district final May 19 against Westerville Central would play out.
In her team's first 22 games, the Tigers had scored six or more runs 10 times and had been shut out only once.
That one time was their season opener, a 3-0, 10-inning loss at Central Crossing on March 25 in which Comets pitcher Emily Gant recorded 30 strikeouts, a state record for a 10-inning game.
Unfortunately for Central, a second shutout ended the season.
The 16th-seeded Tigers stranded 11 baserunners in a 2-0 loss to the 19th-seeded Warhawks, falling short of their first district championship since 2013 at their home complex.
"We had opportunities. It was just one of those games that things didn't fall our way. They're a great team and they kept us off-balance," Young said. "How a game will go, I think it's something that just depends. The field next to us had a 13-10 game (with Gahanna defeating Mount Vernon in another district final).
"However the game turns out, you have to make plays. Every pitch, every out are critical."
Central loaded the bases in the sixth inning and put two runners on in the seventh but came up empty in finishing 17-6 overall.
Warhawks pitcher Sydney Stepp, a Bowling Green commit, gave up six hits but struck out eight and allowed only one walk, to Central freshman utility player Tori Angles in the sixth inning.
"I just focused on moving the ball. I knew if I missed it over the plate, there was a chance they'd hit it over the fence," Stepp said. "They're a good-hitting team. My defense played very well. They caught everything."
Seniors Cami Fisk (1B/3B) and Anna Villies (OF) each had two hits for the Tigers, whose seven-game winning streak was snapped.
Sophomore catcher Zoie Smith had a team-high 11 home runs, ahead of sophomore pitcher Anna Feil (10) and junior shortstop Sophia Slack (9).
The Tigers went 7-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division to finish second, behind Lancaster (8-2) and ahead of Gahanna and Grove City (both 5-5), Reynoldsburg (4-6) and Pickerington North (1-9). All six teams advanced to district semifinals and Central, Gahanna, Lancaster and Reynoldsburg made district finals, but only Gahanna won a title.
Central began the 46-team district tournament with an 11-1, five-inning win over 38th-seeded Hamilton Township on May 7. The Tigers outslugged host and eighth-seeded Hilliard Darby 14-10 in the second round May 9 before edging 12th-seeded Watkins Memorial 3-1 in a district semifinal May 14 at Central.
Smith hit a two-run home run in the 10th inning and Fisk added a solo homer two batters later.
"The season was an amazing run. These girls ... it's really special. It hurts," said Young, who replaced six-year coach Carrie Eneix in January. "It's been a privilege to coach these girls and coach with my staff and be a part of this program. It's been an utter privilege."
Track teams sweep district titles
Illustrating their depth, the boys and girls track and field teams combined to win 10 events -- although no individual won more than one -- and swept the Division I, district 1 championships May 19 at Darby.
Eight of those victories came for the boys team, which amassed 158 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Dublin Coffman (94) as 16 teams scored. Finishing first were John Brown in the discus (144 feet), Evan Matthews in the 300-meter hurdles (37.99 seconds), Zach Robinson in the 400 (48.51), Crockett Schooler in the 110 hurdles (14.87), Matt Scrape in the 3,200 (9:25.67) and the 400 relay (43.34), 800 relay (1:29.31) and 1,600 relay (3:18.9).
The top four finishers in each event advanced to regional May 23 and Friday, May 25, at North.
Also advancing to regional were Denzell Feagin in the 100 (second, 11.37) and 200 (second, 22.72), Matthews in the 110 hurdles (second, 15.06), Schooler in the 300 hurdles (second, 39.36), Malcolm Briley in the 200 (third, 22.73) and long jump (fourth, 20-4 1/2), Brady Johnson in the 800 (third, 1:56.77), Ken Le in the pole vault (third, 12-4), Garner Wallace in the 1,600 (third, 4:26.23), the 3,200 relay (third, 8:04.4) and Terry Simuel in the 400 (fourth, 49.59).
Led by wins from Jaydan Wood in the 400 (54.87) and the 400 relay (49.1), the girls team scored 112 points to edge runner-up Thomas Worthington (107.5) as 16 teams scored. Wood also placed second in the 200 (25.04).
Other regional qualifiers were Destinee McGrady in the 100 (second, 12.91), the 800 relay (second, 1:41.35), the 1,600 relay (second, 3:54.21), Grace Luther in the shot put (third, 37-4 1/2), Iyonna Ross in the 400 (third, 59.28), Shayla Boyd in the long jump (fourth, 16-11 1/2), Trinity Brown in the 100 hurdles (fourth, 16.28) and 300 hurdles (fourth, 46.54), Dalajah Long in the 100 (fourth, 13.02) and Simone Mahan in the high jump (fourth, 5-1).
At regional, the top four finishers in each event advance to state June 1 and 2 at Ohio State.
Baseball team loses district final
The baseball team led off a Division I district final as well as it could have hoped May 16 as senior third baseman A.J. Thomas blasted a solo home run to left field in the first inning, but 10th-seeded Central got only four hits thereafter and committed three errors in a 2-1 loss to sixth-seeded New Albany at Gahanna.
Junior pitcher Justin Maynard gave up only four hits himself, but two came in the bottom of the sixth when the Eagles' Nick Shroyer doubled and then scored on a single by Parker Thompson.
Central, which finished 15-10 overall, lost in a district final for the third consecutive year. Each loss has been by one run.
"(Maynard) was locked in and focused. I don't think anything fazed him out there," coach Ray Noe said. "That's what I love about this team. We never stopped fighting or competing. Even if the odds were against us, we never stopped and that will bode well for us in the future."
The loss ended a year that saw Central go 10-5 in the OCC-Ohio and tie Lancaster for its first league championship since 2009, finishing ahead of Grove City and Pickerington North (both 8-6), Gahanna (8-7) and Reynoldsburg (0-15).
The Tigers took a first-round bye in the 48-team district tournament before defeating 24th-seeded Westerville Central 10-1 in the second round and 15th-seeded Hilliard Bradley 5-1 in a district semifinal May 14 at Grove City.
Thomas, a Winston-Salem recruit, shared league Player of the Year honors with Lancaster's Casey Finck and also was named first-team all-district. Senior Matt Fullen (2B/OF) and sophomore Michael Shinohara (P) were first-team all-league, Maynard and junior DeWayne Carter (1B) were second-team all-league, senior Trenton Gillison (OF) was special mention all-league and senior Jakob Johnson (C) was honorable mention all-league.
Carter, Gillison and Shinohara were second-team all-district and Fullen was honorable mention all-district.
Gillison is a Michigan State football recruit but has not ruled out playing baseball. Junior first baseman Karter Johnson has committed to play football at Texas Christian.
Senior Jordan Fields (SS) committed to Ohio Dominican on May 18.
Tennis players lose in district tourney
The boys tennis team's season came to an end in the first round of the Division I district tournament May 17 at Bradley, as the doubles team of seniors Leyton Mathias and Jeremy O'Coner lost to New Albany's Devin Boyer and Nathan Jose 6-0, 6-1.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles at district advanced to state.
Mathias and O'Coner were the only district qualifiers for Central, who went 16-4 overall in the regular season and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Lancaster and North for their first league championship since 2003. Rounding out the league standings were Lancaster (2-3), Grove City (1-4) and Reynoldsburg (0-5).
"They exceeded every expectation I had, and I set the bar high to begin with," coach Kelli Rings said. "The fact that they exceeded what my thoughts for the season were is fantastic. This is an awesome group, just amazing."
Mathias and O'Coner placed fourth in a sectional that concluded May 12 at Central as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to district.
Others eligible to return include junior Karson Stanley, sophomores Stevan Klein and Cooper Stang and freshman Brady Phelps.
Boys lacrosse team falls in second round
Despite being short two starters during a Division I, Region 3 second-round tournament game at New Albany on May 15, the boys lacrosse team hung close until the fourth quarter in a 15-8 loss to the third-seeded Eagles.
Senior attacker Mark Carberry's five goals led the 11th-seeded Tigers, who finished 8-10 overall and were within 11-7 with two minutes left in the third against a New Albany team to which it had lost 15-4 on April 4.
"What really got us down was faceoffs. (New Albany's Peter Ackley) probably won 80 or 90 percent of those faceoffs and you can't win the game without the ball," coach Garyck Todd said. "Our defense played well; they were calm, cool and collected and when we did possess on the ball on offense, we were solid. The problem was getting the ball."
Central played without senior midfielder Tyler Coyan and junior midfielder Liam Murphy because of an injury and academic commitment, respectively.
Carberry had 11 of his team-high 52 goals in the postseason, which began with a 12-9 win over 18th-seeded Westerville South on May 12 in the first round of the 19-team tournament.
That was the Tigers' first postseason win since 2011.
Carberry also had 27 assists this season.
Junior midfielder Owen Henry added 27 goals and 11 assists, Coyan and freshman attacker A.J. Terbovich each scored 17 goals and senior attacker Ben Riggs scored 11.
Junior goalkeeper Brendan Chong stopped 154 of 331 shots (46.5 percent).
Central went 4-3 in the OCC-Central to finish fourth, behind Coffman (7-0), Upper Arlington (6-1) and Hilliard Davidson (5-2) and ahead of North (3-4), Gahanna (2-5), Marysville (1-6) and Newark (0-7).
Girls lacrosse team ousted by Celtics
Grace Osborn's three goals led the girls lacrosse team in a 17-7 loss at second-seeded Dublin Jerome in a Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal May 18.
Maddi Hyer, Megan Killilea, Maddie Morrell and Riley Smith each added one goal for the ninth-seeded Tigers, who finished 10-9 and were eliminated by the Celtics for the second consecutive year.
Volleyball team falls in second round
The boys volleyball team opened the Division I East Region tournament with a win but ended its season with a second-round loss. The 15th-seeded Tigers defeated 13th-seeded Thomas 20-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-17 in a first-round match May 18 at Olentangy but lost to sixth-seeded Gahanna 23-25, 25-16, 25-12, 26-24 in the second round the next day at Olentangy to finish 6-15.