Jaidon Lipscomb and Elhajdi Thiam have not amassed gaudy statistics for the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team, but their play has been steady in helping the Tigers maintain their status as one of the area's top teams despite some turnover.
Lipscomb, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, and Thiam, a 6-6 sophomore forward/center, generally are Central's first two players off the bench. Lipscomb started five games as a junior to help kickstart the Tigers' run to a Division I state semifinal after a 7-8 start, and Thiam started four games in January after guards Jay Rodgers and Sam Towns were ruled ineligible for the rest of the year because of Ohio High School Athletic Association transfer rules and center Coleton Landis missed time because of an ankle injury.
"We know we have guys who need to step up and play bigger roles than maybe they ever have in their high school careers," Lipscomb said. "We always have the next man ready to come up. That's been true the whole season. We're ready to make adjustments to our type of style if we need to."
Central is 20-1 overall and 8-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division, tied for first with Pickerington North, after a 70-47 win at Grove City on Feb. 8. The Tigers finish league play Friday, Feb. 15, at home against Gahanna.
Lipscomb is averaging 5.4 points. Thiam has 34 points the entire season, with a high-water mark of 10 points in a 95-80 win over Trotwood-Madison -- then the top-ranked team in Division II -- on Jan. 21 in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont.
Thiam dressed varsity last season, although he usually played three quarters of junior varsity in order to have one quarter of eligibility for varsity games. He put on about 10 pounds of muscle and now weighs 165 pounds.
"You have to be ready to contribute on varsity and take a lot of responsibility and take everything seriously for the next level," Thiam said. "I tried to get bigger over the summer. I already have the (height), but I had to get more muscular. I was a little skinnier last year. (Last year) definitely helped me improve. All of that experience is helping me now. I know what to expect."
Lipscomb alternates between point guard and shooting guard, depending on personnel and opponents' defenses.
"(Being so deep) takes the pressure off everybody," Lipscomb said. "We just have to get our plays down and put all the little things together. We have to lock down on defense and keep that up throughout the tournament.
"Our camaraderie is different than last year," Lipscomb said, citing the team's adversity with losing Rodgers and Towns. "I feel like we're more close-knit and maybe the tightest-knit group Pick Central has ever had."
Central, which also defeated Newark 51-38 on Feb. 9, is seeded third of 47 teams in the coming Division I district tournament behind Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Bradley. The Tigers will play host to 45th-seeded Westland in a first-round game Feb. 23.
Coffman, Bradley and Central were ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, in last week's state poll behind Cincinnati Moeller.
"We can always do better," coach Eric Krueger said. "We have to continue to execute offensively and be ready for anything, whether it's man-to-man, zone, pressure, anything we see defensively that's being thrown at us. We have to be crisper and sharper in everything we do. We have to make the right play, the easy play."
Eberhardt leads swimmers to district
Nathen Eberhardt of the boys swimming team is the top seed in the 100-yard backstroke (52.02 seconds) and seeded fourth in the 200 freestyle (1:44.5) for the Division I district meet Friday, Feb. 15, at Ohio State.
The Cleveland State recruit won the 100 back and was runner-up in the 200 free in a sectional Feb. 9 at Upper Arlington, leading Central to 67 points to finish ninth behind the host and champion Golden Bears (317) as 15 teams scored. Eberhardt also helped the 200 medley relay (1:48.46, eighth) and 400 free relay (3:30.73, seventh) to district berths.
Sam Bechert, Braeden Lehrman and Broderick Thompson rounded out the 200 medley relay, while Brett Eberhardt, Lehrman and Joe Phillips also were on the 400 free relay.
The girls team's top individual performer at sectional was Kolya Larson, who placed third in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.01) and eighth in the 50 free (25.18) to earn at-large district berths in both events. She also was on the district-qualifying 200 free (1:46.49, fifth) and 200 medley (1:56.3, fifth) relays.
The 400 free relay of Paige Christy, Bella Jones, Megan Phillips and Natalie Reed also placed fifth (3:56.02) and qualified for district.
Central finished fourth (92) at sectional behind champion UA (385.5) as 16 teams scored.
At district, the top two placers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 22 and 23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Wrestlers continue streak against North
The wrestling team recorded its fourth consecutive win over North on Feb. 7, winning nine weight classes -- including two by forfeit -- to defeat the Panthers 39-24.
Coach Jason Allen saw the performance he expected, although he said it was "flat" at times because the match came amid intense training in preparation for a Division I sectional tournament Feb. 23 at UA.
"We gave up some bonus points that made it closer and didn't get some where we thought we could," Allen said. "It's all right. We looked flat overall, but that's based on our training regimen right now. We're working them pretty hard. We were just trying to prepare for the postseason, train through this and hopefully rise to the occasion."
Central finished 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio, second behind Lancaster (5-0).
Against North, the Tigers got wins from Duane Armstrong (160 pounds), who beat Kyle Coffey 7-1; Bo Branson (126), who pinned Erik Gomez in 5:37; Alex Epps (195), who defeated Braden Watts 7-3; Matt Gonzales (heavyweight), who shut out Tyce Neu 4-0; Kaleb Mangahas (106), who pinned Mackston Reed in 5:05; Silas Pearson (182), who beat Josiah George 7-1; and Marcus Zullo (152), who defeated Adrian Clarke 6-0.
Trevor Mangahas (126) and Holden Walters (132) won by forfeit.
Postseason begins for girls team
The girls basketball team begins what it hopes will be a run to its second consecutive Division I state championship Saturday, Feb. 16, when it plays host to 38th-seeded Groveport in the first round of the district tournament.
The Tigers routed the Cruisers 66-20 on Dec. 18.
Seeded first of 45 teams, Central is 21-1 overall and finished 10-0 in the OCC-Ohio after a 75-23 rout of Grove City on Feb. 8. Maliya Perry's 23 points led 11 Tigers who scored.
Madison Greene had 17 points and Perry scored 14 in a 75-20 home win over New Albany on Feb. 5.
Perry's game-high 18 points as well as 13 from Greene and 10 from Nicole Stephens led the Tigers past visiting and eighth-ranked Newark 61-50 on Feb. 9.
Central was first in last week's state poll, marking its third consecutive week atop the rankings.
The Central-Groveport winner will play host to 44th-seeded Hamilton Township in a second-round game Feb. 22.
Football players select colleges
Four football players announced their college destinations Feb. 6.
Jason Betts will play at Navy, Jamir Jackson will play at Ohio Dominican, Isaiah O'Connor will play at Notre Dame College and Richard Turnbo will play at Urbana.