Anticipation built among the Pickerington Central boys golf team as scores began to come in during the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio Division tournament Sept. 11 at Turnberry.
Once it became clear that the Tigers were going to emerge atop a wild league race for the first time in many of their players' lifetimes, coach Chris Cores and his players retreated to a hill far enough from the green on No. 18 that they could have a quick team chat and exchange hugs and handshakes in celebration.
Powered by Jaden Thompson's round of 73, Central shot a 315 on Sept. 11 to place second in the final round behind Grove City (299), but finished 16-4 in the OCC-Ohio overall, ahead of the runner-up Greyhounds (14-6) as well as Gahanna and Pickerington North (both 13-7), Lancaster (4-16) and Reynoldsburg (0-20), for its first league championship since 2001.
"Things have been so super competitive in this division," Cores said, choking up occasionally. "I couldn't be any prouder. They worked hard, went to all their lessons, played in tournaments and battled so hard. This league is tough. I think it's the most underrated division in the OCC. ... It's such a pressure cooker.
"I took a walk through our gym the other day and took a picture of our banner that said '2001' up there and nothing since. I want to go to every basketball game, whatever, in that gym the rest of my life and see 2019 up there."
Also scoring in the final round were Blake Bennett (77), Carter Woodward (82) and Aiden Allen and Cole Crandall, both of whom shot an 83. Woodward was 6-over par through the first three holes but shot just 4-over the rest of the way.
North was third at 319 on Sept. 11, followed by Gahanna (320), Lancaster (342) and Reynoldsburg (407).
Gahanna had won the past two league championships, something that had stuck with Central since its second-place finish a year ago. The final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament has been played at Turnberry, which is the Tigers' home course, five of the past six seasons.
"The fact that most of us hadn't even been born yet the last time we won the (league) and with all this hard work we've put in the winter, spring and summer, it was all for this moment," Bennett said. "We only had one upperclassman last year and the rest of us were underclassmen. We knew that we had a real shot at this. It's been our goal since the minute after we left this course last year."
Cores said Thompson "put us on his back," a role Thompson embraced.
"I just started well and played a lot of good golf," he said. "I left some birdies out there, but there was a lot I was proud of. I have shot well here before. I've had a few 73s on this course this year and it's always been a battle to get lower, but I've never not been happy with those rounds."
Cores, a 2000 graduate of Central, invoked the bigger picture when considering the league championship's impact on the program.
"I'm so excited for the guys and happy for all the guys who have been through this program before," he said.
"We've been close before. This is a huge moment for us."
Soccer teams fall to Panthers
Despite his team having won only three of its first nine games, boys soccer coach Brett Neiderman felt most of the contests were tightly contested.
That was not the case against visiting North in the Tigers' OCC-Ohio opener Sept. 10, as Koen Droese scored in the first seven minutes to give Central a 1-0 lead, only to be shut out from there in a 7-1 loss.
Central was 3-4-2 overall and 0-1 in the league before playing Lancaster on Sept. 17. The Tigers' other three losses were decided by one or two goals.
"We got killed in the midfield (against North). We let them have all the possession they wanted and they picked our midfield and defense apart," Neiderman said. "On the whole, we're better than what we showed (against North). We've been in every other game we played. If we put together a good 80-minute drive, we'd have had a good chance to win every game we've played so far.
"Our attacking play with Koen Droese up top and Mirnes Bubalo out wide has been strong. That's something we haven't had in years past, where the attack has been as strong as it is this year. We just need a little more in the midfield and on the defense."
Earlier Sept. 10, Lexey Sheets scored the girls team's only goal in a 4-1 loss to North. Goalkeeper Lauryn Evans made five saves for Central, which lost to Gahanna 3-0 in an OCC-Ohio contest Sept. 14 and was 4-5 overall and 0-2 in the league before playing Lancaster on Sept. 17.
Freshman forward Kennedy Coles had a team-best three goals through nine games for the Tigers.
Volleyball team seeks league wins
The girls volleyball team needs a strong second half of the OCC-Ohio season in order to repeat as league champion, as it was 6-5 overall and 1-3 in the league before playing Gahanna on Sept. 17.
Central lost its first two league matches, falling 25-8, 25-11, 25-23 to North on Sept. 3 and 25-23, 25-22, 25-23 to Lancaster on Sept. 5, before a three-game win over Reynoldsburg on Sept. 10. The Tigers also fell to Grove City 25-18, 18-25, 25-21, 25-21 on Sept. 12.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 21 -- Tiger Invitational at home
Sept. 21 -- Worthington Kilbourne Invitational at Worthington Hills
Sept. 23 -- Gahanna Invitational at Little Turtle
Sept. 19 -- Canal Winchester at Turnberry
Sept. 23 -- Lakewood at Harbor Hills
Sept. 19 -- At Westland
*Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 24 -- At Reynoldsburg
Sept. 23 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 25 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls
*Sept. 19 -- At Pickerington North. The Tigers lost to the Panthers 25-8, 25-11, 25-23 on Sept. 3.
*Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Lancaster. The Tigers lost to the Golden Gales 25-23, 25-22, 25-23 on Sept. 5.