Adrian Crockwell hit some of the biggest shots of the Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team's most important win in more than a decade, but the senior guard took no special credit for her part in the Tigers' 60-52 win over Westerville South in a Division I regional final March 9 at Otterbein.
Thirteen of her 16 points came in the second half as Central erased a 31-25 deficit -- including 3-pointers on the first two possessions of the third quarter, one of which she made while being hit in the face by the left arm of South's Peyton Guice - and earned its first state tournament berth since 2006 and 12th overall.
The Tigers improved to 26-2 and will play Mason (24-3) in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday, March 16, at Ohio State.
"I just thought to myself that we'd come this far and we deserved to win. We just had to play like we knew how," said Crockwell, the only Central player with state tournament experience.
"You definitely can't treat this like just another week, but we should know it will be tough. The crowd will be huge. We just have to keep our heads."
Crockwell, who also had seven rebounds against South, reached state with Newark as a freshman and Reynoldsburg as a sophomore.
Madison Greene's layup with 2 minutes, 35 seconds left gave Central the lead for good at 51-49 after it had led 49-38 to start the quarter. After missing their first six free-throw attempts of the period, the Tigers made five of their last six to seal the victory.
Greene had a team-high 17 points and Kyla Whitehead added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Central, which is seeking its first state championship since 1999 and seventh overall.
In his fifth season as coach, Johnathan Hedgepeth said he has applied lessons learned from his time as an assistant coach for the boys team, including its 2012 Division I state title.
"(Former boys coach) Jerry Francis taught me a lot," Hedgepeth said. "Seeing our girls program where it was, my daughter (Lydia) was coming up and I wanted to be a part of revitalizing that like we did with the boys. Now that's all happened. I am so proud.
"Jerry has a wealth of knowledge. He used to tell me about staying under control (because) games are going to get close, like what happened (against South). Just maintain what we believe in and keep doing that. He's been a great mentor, along with many others."
Central advanced to the regional final by knocking off OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna 58-44 in a semifinal March 6 at Otterbein. Greene had 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals and Crockwell added 13 points as the Tigers advanced to their first regional final since 2008.
"The eyes of the community are on us," Greene said. "They've been on us all year."
Mason edged Greater Miami Conference rival West Chester Lakota West 54-51 in a regional final March 10 at Kettering Fairmont. Junior guard Sade Tucker led the Comets with 20 points, senior forward Anna Brinkmann had 10 points and seven rebounds and junior forward Sammie Puisis, a Florida State commit, added eight points and seven rebounds.
The Comets are making their fifth trip to state and seeking their first title since 2000, when they defeated Pickerington 36-25 in the final.
The Central-Mason winner will play Solon (26-2) or Wadsworth (25-3) in the state final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Ohio State.
Solon is in the state tournament for the third time in four years, while Wadsworth is at state for the second time in three years.
Hedgepeth said the Tigers will do their best to keep a promise they made in late December when they befriended 9-year-old cancer patient Danny Feltwell during their trip to the Diamond State Classic in Wilmington, Delaware.
Feltwell, who is from Margate, New Jersey, is a survivor of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma - a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The Tigers told Feltwell during a hospital visit that if they made the state tournament, he would be invited to the games.
"He's been recovering and doing pretty well lately," Hedgepeth said. "We hope he can be there with us."
Despite breaking the team's 12-year drought of regional titles, Hedgepeth said the Tigers' work isn't finished.
"Nope," he said. "We still have two more games to win."