Given his team’s recent history in Division I regional semifinals, Pickerington High School Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth joked that on one hand, a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter March 6 against Gahanna felt like 20.
On the other, he wasn’t sure a 15-point lead with four minutes left meant the Tigers were in complete control of a game they won 58-44 at Otterbein to reach their first regional final since 2008.
“I don’t know that we took control. It was an ugly game, but given that we’ve lost here the past two years, we’ll take an ugly win,” Hedgepeth said. “We were rushing early, almost in a panic state, so we were making hard passes and not taking the best shots. Execution got better. That was the biggest thing of anything.”
Central improved to 25-2 and will play Westerville South in the regional final March 9 at Otterbein.
Madison Greene scored 13 of her 19 points in the final 8 minutes, 1 second and added eight rebounds to pace the Tigers, who had lost in regional semifinals each of the past two years. Adrian Crockwell added 13 points and Maliya Perry had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Greene made a buzzer-beating layup to end the third quarter, and the Tigers scored the first six points of the fourth to pull away. Crockwell and Greene made consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead to 52-39 with 3:09 left.
“We got the momentum and made some easy baskets,” Greene said. “We started not to shoot as much and drive more and get to the (foul line). If we had a bad possession, we put it behind us.”
Anisja Harris scored 16 points to lead Gahanna, which finished 19-8 and was outrebounded 42-27. Morgan Darnell added 12 points and Edyn Battle 11.
The Lions were coming off a 54-52 overtime upset of Reynoldsburg in a district final March 3.
“Rebounding was something we knew was going to be an issue,” Gahanna coach Betsy Baker said. “I didn’t think our collective team defense was where it was (in the district final).”
Westerville South 62, Newark 57
South junior guard Peyton Guice says her team doesn’t mind the underdog role.
South upset Newark, which was ranked fourth in the final Division I state poll, in a regional semifinal March 6 at Otterbein.
South improved to 21-5 and will face Pickerington Central in the regional final March 9 at Otterbein. The Wildcats lost to the top-ranked Tigers 59-40 on Jan. 9 at home.
On March 3, South won its first district championship, knocking off third-ranked Dublin Coffman 68-58 in a district final at Ohio Dominican.
“We’re the underdogs of this tournament,” Guice said. “A lot of people don’t expect us to go far. We have our toughest game coming up on Friday and we have to keep pushing, keep working and keep grinding and we’re going to get there.”
South never trailed against Newark, leading 13-6 after one quarter, 30-22 at halftime and 44-36 after three quarters.
Newark trimmed the deficit to 50-46 midway through the fourth quarter on Emma Shumate’s 3-pointer, but South answered with Gabby Hutcherson’s putback and two free throws and Sommer Pitzer’s four free throws in the final minute.
Hutcherson finished with a game-high 23 points, including 17 in the second half, and had 13 rebounds. Guice added 12 points.
“This is why this is such a dangerous team because you can get answers from anyone of those kids at anytime,” South coach Silas Williams said. “As long as they’re playing relaxed and they’re moving the basketball and they’re confident in each other and they believe in each other, they’re hard to guard.”
Katie Shumate and Gabby Stare each had 19 points for Newark, which finished 25-2.