Jeremiah Francis and Sterling Manley are in the scorebooks as having done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team.

Jeremiah Francis and Sterling Manley are in the scorebooks as having done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team.

But as the Tigers try to prolong their best start since the Division I state championship season of 2011-12, the remaining three starters and a handful of role players continually have emerged to back them up.

Highly recruited forwards Juan Elmore and Adrian Nelson lead a group that also includes guards Josiah Fulcher and Jalen Horton. In addition, transfers Jah'von Blevins and Javohn Garcia recently joined the lineup after having to sit out the season's first 11 games per Ohio High School Athletic Association rules.

"Even if they don't have the big numbers (Francis and Manley) have, opponents know about them," coach Eric Krueger said. "We have some guys on this roster who are getting attention. If they keep working every day, they will be big-time when it's all said and done."

Central was 11-1 overall before playing Chillicothe on Jan. 17 and is 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering a Friday, Jan. 20, tilt at Gahanna. The Tigers, who were ranked second behind Cincinnati Moeller in the season's first Division I state poll last week, suffered their first loss on Jan. 14, falling to Marietta (Georgia) Joseph Wheeler 64-51 in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont.

Central -- which won its first 14 games in the 2011-12 season -- received four first-place votes in last week's state poll to Moeller's eight, and 127 total votes to the Crusaders' 133.

Defending state champion Westerville South, which the Tigers defeated 62-57 on Jan. 3, was ranked fourth.

Nelson, a 6-foot-6 power forward who missed all of last season with a back injury, considered a 21-point, 10-rebound performance in an 85-59 win over Hazel Park (Michigan) in the Fastbreak Invitational on Dec. 17 at Belleville, Michigan, his breakout game. He is being recruited by the Air Force Academy, Detroit Mercy and Stony Brook, among other colleges, and occasionally has stepped out to his preferred position of small forward.

"I have to be more aggressive and be a leader," Nelson said. "All the guards have been stepping up a lot. JoJo (Fulcher) is a role guy, but he's playing more than what his role really is. I talked to him in practice and I've seen his confidence growing. It's all about getting more repetition."

Nelson was averaging 10 points through 12 games.

Fulcher, a freshman, helped turn the tide against South after Central trailed 8-0 early. His second-quarter putback that gave the Tigers a 20-17 lead immediately followed a Francis 3-pointer that ultimately gave Central the lead for good. A few minutes later, Fulcher hit a 3-pointer and converted a steal into a layup on consecutive possessions.

"Coming off the bench really doesn't matter to me. I know my teammates will always have my back," Fulcher said. "At the beginning of the season, my shot was off. I got in the gym and started working on it and it came back to me. It just started falling."

Krueger added, "Josiah plays with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. He is a great kid. He is young, but he is not afraid of the moment."

Blevins, a transfer from defending Division II state champion New Concord John Glenn, and Garcia, a transfer from Independence, are expected to add even further depth. They both were held to two points in their debuts against Wheeler, which was ranked eighth in USA Today's preseason Super 25 poll and featured a multitude of Division I recruits and commits.

Boys bowlers
hitting stride

The boys bowling team sought its fifth consecutive win when it took on Hilliard Davidson in an OCC-Central match Jan. 18.

Central improved to 8-4 overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-South Division by edging Groveport 2,049-2,032 on Jan. 12 at Rule 3. Jaret Negron's 386 two-game series led the Tigers, ahead of Adrian Jackson (345) and Evan Tailford (299).

The Tigers were 0-1 in the OCC-Central before Jan. 18.

The girls team did not compete against Groveport. The Tigers were 5-5 overall and in the COHSBC-South after a 1,458-1,116 win over Africentric on Jan. 10 at Rule 3.

Abigail Hill's 339 series that day led Central, which also was 0-1 in the OCC-Central before competing against Davidson.

Jackson's 174.1 game average before Jan. 18 led the boys team, just ahead of Negron (172.2).

Hill's 156.5 average paced the girls, ahead of Molly Federer (141.9) and Kate Merkel (137.2).

Girls basketball team
looks to maintain lead

The girls basketball team will try to strengthen its hold on the OCC-Ohio when it begins the second round of league play Friday, Jan. 20, at home against Gahanna.

Central, which is seeking its second consecutive OCC-Ohio championship, is 12-3 overall and 5-0 in the league, one game ahead of second-place Reynoldsburg (4-1) and two ahead of the third-place Lions (3-2).

The Tigers extended their winning streak to four games with two victories last weekend, 62-36 over Grove City on Jan. 13 and 44-42 over Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame the next day in the Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland.

Maliya Perry had 13 points and Madison Greene scored 10 against Grove City. Greene had 15 points against Mount Notre Dame, which like Central debuted in the "others receiving votes" category in the first Division I state poll released last week.

Mount Notre Dame was ranked 14th and Central was 16th.

The visit to Hiland was the Tigers' last of four trips outside central Ohio this season.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave