The Pickerington High School Central softball team found itself on the wrong side of a historic performance in its season opener, but a day later, the Tigers again looked like the team that has been among the area's highest-scoring in recent years.
Under first-year coach Jenny Young, Central hopes it resembles the team that defeated Olentangy Liberty 13-2 in its home opener March 26 more than the one that struck out 30 times in 10 innings against Central Crossing's Emily Gant in a 3-0 loss on March 25. That was the most strikeouts in a 10-inning game in state history, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
"We have a very versatile offense. A lot of girls can do big things," sophomore catcher Zoie Smith said. "We want our runners to be in motion. We like to create havoc because we have a lot of good baserunners, and we have a lot of clutch hitters."
Junior shortstop Sophia Slack, who hit a school-record 15 home runs last year, is among the returnees for a Tigers team hoping to repeat as OCC-Ohio Division champion and win its first Division I district title since 2013. Last season, Central went 25-4 overall and 10-0 in the league and lost to Hilliard Bradley 7-6 in a district final.
Against Liberty, senior Cami Fisk (1B/3B) homered twice and Smith added a grand slam to highlight a seven-run fourth inning.
Central is 1-4 entering a Thursday, April 5, home game against Westerville North. The Tigers are hoping to rebound from three losses March 31 in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they lost to Corryton (Tennessee) Gibbs 5-1, Zionsville (Indiana) 10-0 in five innings and Georgetown (Kentucky) Scott Country 5-3.
Young, a former player at Sam Houston State and one-time assistant coach at Miami University who replaced Carrie Eneix in January, thinks Central can approach or exceed its offensive numbers of recent seasons. The Tigers averaged 9.5 runs per game last season, 8.0 in 2016 and 13.8 in 2015.
"They work hard in the weight room," Young said, crediting assistant coach Charles Schultz's conditioning program. "The time and effort they put in is paying dividends. ...
"It was a hard-fought game (March 25), but these girls just get after it no matter who we play. This team has the talent to go far."
Sophomore Anna Feil, a Georgia Southern commit, will be Central's primary pitcher. She filled the same role last year for Grove City.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Ally Collier (OF), Erin Knight (OF), Sara Mikulec (3B) and Anna Villies (OF), juniors Autumn Brock (OF), Jaylen Felder (INF), Bella Rupright (C) and Ally Thornberry (P/OF), sophomore Taylor Whalen (P/INF) and freshman Sara Tailford (2B/OF).
Central begins defense of its OCC-Ohio title Wednesday, April 11, at home against Pickerington North.
The Tigers finished three games ahead of runner-up Gahanna in the league last year.
"Our hitting will always be strong here," Mikulec said. "Once we get the bats rolling and get used to live pitching, I think we will do great."
Gillison back for baseball team
Trenton Gillison hopes to build on an outstanding offensive year for the baseball team, which was 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing North on April 4.
Gillison, a senior first baseman and outfielder who has signed to play football at Michigan State, batted .557 with two home runs and 32 RBI last season, when Central finished 19-11 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Ohio and reached a Division I district final before losing to Hilliard Darby 11-10.
"He's very, very special," third-year coach Ray Noe said. "If somebody didn't hear about the season he had last year, they weren't paying attention. I think he can be elite again. He's focused. He's one of the best hitters around."
Other returnees include seniors Jordan Fields (SS), Jakob Johnson (C) and A.J. Thomas (P/3B) and junior DeWayne Carter (1B/DH).
Fields is a three-year starter, while Johnson is an Ohio Valley University recruit and Thomas has signed with Winston-Salem State.
Central opened March 24 with a 6-2 home loss to Bloom-Carroll. The Tigers, who committed five errors and trailed 4-0 after half an inning against the Bulldogs, bounced back with a 10-1 win at Canton (Georgia) Creeksview on March 28 and defeated host Alpharetta (Georgia) King's Ridge Christian 8-4 on March 31.
Gillison and freshman Nick Mosley (OF) each had two hits April 2 as Central began league play with a 4-1 home win over North. Sophomore pitcher Michael Shinohara struck out four and allowed three hits in a complete-game win.
Other pitchers include senior Ryan Belcher and juniors Caleb Gillaspie, Justin Maynard and Cayden Wirkiowski. Belcher also plays second base and Maynard is a third baseman.
"We don't have 90 (mph) arms, but we're gifted," Noe said. "If we can make plays, we'll put ourselves in position to win. We scored nine or 10 runs in most of our scrimmages. But defensively, we need to tighten things up. It's so hard to win when you give teams extra bases. We'll get better."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Jared Babcock (OF), Matt Fullen (2B/OF) and Marquis Netter (OF/2B) and juniors Karter Johnson (1B/DH) and Grant Puskar (OF).
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Johnson is a move-in from Gahanna and a defensive end on the football team.
Central tied Gahanna for second in the OCC-Ohio last season behind Grove City (14-0).
"We have a quality non-conference schedule, but our league prepares us for anything," Noe said. "Every game is a battle."
Boys volleyball team growing, progressing
While the boys volleyball team had three fewer wins last year than in 2016, seventh-year coach Luke Rininger believes the program did anything but take a step back.
Central, which opened April 3 at home against OCC-Ohio foe Dublin Coffman, finished 14-11 overall last season and went 5-5 in the OCC-Ohio to place fourth behind champion Hilliard Davidson (10-0). The Tigers lost to Darby 25-10, 25-9, 25-7 in a Division I East Region semifinal, ending a season in which they recorded their first wins against league rivals Gahanna and Pickerington North.
"We were a better team last year than the year before," Rininger said. "We were playing tougher teams. We weren't playing the bottom-level teams we used to be comparable with. We're playing better teams to get the experience and get a better seed in the tournament.
"Playing the harder teams well gave the guys confidence in themselves. Teams don't chalk us up as a win. I believed in them a long time ago, but now the guys are starting to believe it, too."
Several key players return, including seniors Kahle Keys (setter) and Calen Kovaleski (right-side hitter) and juniors Nathan Lee (libero) and Jason Orr (setter).
The program has grown from 20 to 32 players and, according to Rininger, Central will field varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams for the first time since the district split in 2003.
Rininger called Keys his best all-around player and added that, as a result, he will see more time as a hitter.
"My role is not really defined yet. I might set. I might hit a little bit," Keys said. "I'm excited. It's a different challenge. I've always just been a setter, but now we will have to have other people setting because I've become one of the better hitters on the team. I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Danny Garate (outside hitter), Jacob Gardner (right-side hitter) and Chase Vendley (defensive specialist), juniors Coleton Landis (middle hitter), Garhett Manofsky (right-side hitter) and Zach Nestor (middle hitter), sophomores Anthony Burges (outside hitter) and Kaden LaMarr (outside hitter) and freshman Brandon Jones (defensive specialist).
The 6-7 Landis averaged 8.2 points and 6.7 rebounds for the boys basketball team this past winter as the Tigers advanced to a state semifinal.
March 24 -- vs. Bloom-Carroll
March 28 -- at Canton (Ga.) Creeksview
March 31 -- at Alpharetta (Ga.) King's Ridge Christian
*April 2 -- vs. Pickerington North
*April 4 -- at Pickerington North
April 5 -- at Bexley
*April 6 -- Lancaster at Beavers Field
*April 9 -- vs. Lancaster
April 10 -- at Hilliard Darby
*April 11 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*April 13 -- at Reynoldsburg
April 14 -- at Upper Arlington with Thomas Worthington
*April 16 -- at Grove City
April 17 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*April 18 -- vs. Grove City
*April 20 -- vs. Gahanna
April 21 -- at Hilliard Bradley
*April 23 -- at Gahanna
*April 25 -- vs. Pickerington North
*April 26 -- Lancaster at Beavers Field
April 28 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 30 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*May 2 -- at Grove City
*May 4 -- vs. Gahanna
May 5 -- at Dublin Jerome with Big Walnut
March 25 -- at Central Crossing
March 26 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
March 31 -- Corryton (Tenn.) Gibbs, Georgetown (Ky.) Scott County and Zionsville (Ind.) at Clarksville (Tenn.)
April 5 -- vs. Westerville North
April 7 -- vs. Bloom-Carroll and Granville
*April 11 -- vs. Pickerington North
*April 12 -- at Lancaster
April 13 -- Medina in Pickerington Central Showcase
April 14 -- Cardington and Teays Valley in Pickerington Central Showcase
*April 16 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*April 18 -- at Grove City
*April 19 -- vs. Gahanna
*April 23 -- at Pickerington North
*April 25 -- vs. Lancaster
*April 26 -- at Reynoldsburg
*April 30 -- vs. Grove City
*May 2 -- at Gahanna
*April 3 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*April 5 -- at Hilliard Davidson
April 6 -- vs. Watterson, Westerville Central and Worthington Kilbourne
*April 9 -- at Gahanna
*April 12 -- at Pickerington North
*April 17 -- vs. Upper Arlington
April 19 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
April 21 -- at Dublin Jerome with Mount Vernon
*April 23 -- at Dublin Coffman
*April 24 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 26 -- vs. Gahanna
April 30 -- at Reynoldsburg
*May 3 -- vs. Pickerington North
*May 8 -- at Upper Arlington
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:
*April 5 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 10 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
*April 5 -- Home vs. UA
*April 10 -- At Coffman
*April 5 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
April 9 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange in first round of OTCA Division I tournament
*April 10 -- At Lancaster
April 11 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
TRACK & FIELD
April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North