It had been several weeks since the Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team played a game as physical — let alone as close — as its Division I state semifinal March 15 against Toledo Notre Dame Academy.
The Tigers won their first six postseason games by an average of 41.7 points and outscored their first 28 opponents by an average of 69-37.
But Central relied on its usual aggressive half-court trap to turn the tide after trailing 10-9 in the first quarter, holding the Eagles to 1-for-12 shooting from the field in the second to overcome early cold shooting of their own on their way to a 52-42 win at Ohio State.
“That was about our defense. We tried to go more half-court and just reduce the area we had to cover,” Tigers coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said. “We tried to keep their girls in front of us and force them to make tough shots. We had tough, physical matchups in our league (the OCC-Ohio Division) with Gahanna and Reynoldsburg … and we like that. We can take some contact. We’re used to it.”
Madison Greene’s 14 points and five steals and 11 points and five rebounds apiece from Maliya Perry and Jada Tate paced Central, which improved to 28-1 and will go for its second consecutive state championship against Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame at 8:30 p.m. March 16 at Ohio State.
Jocelyn Tate added six points and seven rebounds, and the Tigers forced 22 turnovers while committing only eight.
“They kept switching to try to get longer girls on me, but I just feel we started making shots and finished at the rim well,” said Greene, who capped a 9-0 run early in the second half to give Central a 29-20 lead after Notre Dame Academy’s Grace VanSlooten began the half with a 3-pointer.
VanSlooten finished with a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds. Ashley Barron added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Notre Dame Academy, which finished 23-6 and was in its sixth state tournament since 2012, drew within 46-42 with 46.6 seconds left but got no closer.
“We could have folded it up and lost by 20-plus and to the credit of our kids, they came back and gave us a chance,” Eagles coach Travis Galloway said. “They’re very, very tough to guard. They probably have the best backcourt combination of guards that I’ve ever faced as a coach.”
Mount Notre Dame defeated Canton GlenOak 55-37 in the other semifinal March 15.
The Cougars are seeking their second title in three years and seventh overall, all of which have come since 2004.
“They have several elite players and it’s going to be a tough challenge,” Hedgepeth said. “These girls have been here before. This is what they’re made for.”