In one of the biggest moments of the season for the Pickerington Central boys basketball team, point guard Conner Maciag said instinct and awareness created tunnel vision to the point that he wasn't fully aware of what he'd done until after the fact.
With the Tigers trailing host and crosstown rival Pickerington North 58-55 in the first overtime of a crucial OCC-Ohio Division game Jan. 17, Maciag saw teammate Garner Wallace miss a game-tying shot off the front rim. Even as a guard but not completely outsized at 6-foot-2, Maciag ran into the left block, grabbed an offensive rebound, sprinted outside the 3-point line and drained the tying basket from the left corner.
"It was one of those things where I looked up at the (score)board at the end of the first (overtime), saw we were down three with 20 seconds to go and I saw the ball come off the rim," Maciag said. "Initially, I made the extra pass to Garner, who was open, and his shot fell a little short, but I was fortunate to have the ball bounce our way. I was confident in my shot and the basketball gods were on my side. I actually didn't realize right away that I'd tied the game. I was just so locked in that I ran back to get a stop on defense. There was a timeout and then my teammates ran up to me and I got fired up."
Maciag, who also assisted Wallace for a basket early in the third overtime that gave Central the lead for good in a 65-63 win, considered both of those plays and many others a part of his job.
The senior regards any offense he can provide as a bonus, and he has provided a lot of it as he is averaging 13.4 points as well as 5.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
Central is 13-4 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division and brings a six-game winning streak into a Friday, Jan. 31, game at Reynoldsburg.
"Conner has a knack for making big plays in those types of moments," coach Eric Krueger said. "He's a playmaker and is doing some big things. He's always tried to rise to the occasion. He'd had opportunities last year, but most of the year, he came off the bench. His opportunity this year is a great one. He has more chances to go out there and do the things we know he's capable of doing."
Maciag scored a career-high 31 points Dec. 20 in a 66-45 win over Reynoldsburg and has cracked double digits 12 times.
"Being able to catch and shoot on the fast break is something that I've done well this year," he said. "Sharing the ball and getting people involved, too; not every night am I going to hit six 3s, but I can always get other people involved. I've been a lot better on the offensive side, but that comes with (having) a bigger role. Tahleik (Walker), Garner and I can all score and so can other guys.
"It's good to see the ball fall that many times when you're shooting it, but one night, it might be, another night, it could be Garner or Tahleik. I trust my teammates to hit the shots and they know they can trust me. Having confidence in your teammates goes a long way."
Maciag, who is undecided on where he will play in college but expects to major in finance with the eventual goal of being a financial advisor, said the Tigers are playing their best ball of the season. Central won three games last week, 54-51 at Westerville Central on Jan. 21, 58-34 over visiting Lancaster in OCC-Ohio play Jan. 24 and 63-56 over Walnut Ridge in the Jared Sullinger Play by Play Classic on Jan. 25 at Ohio Dominican.
The Tigers outscored the Scots 25-9 in the fourth quarter, including 14-3 in the final five minutes.
"Our confidence level is as high as it's ever been," Maciag said.
Eberhardt, Jones lead swimmers at OCC meet
While boys swimmer Brett Eberhardt's 50-yard freestyle time has improved throughout the season, he did not expect to swim 22.68 seconds in that event Jan. 26 during the OCC-Ohio meet at Kenyon College, partly because he was not wearing his championship suit.
Nonetheless, Eberhardt placed second in both the 50 free and 100 free (49.86), leading Central to 205.5 points and fifth place behind Gahanna (484.5), North (468), Reynoldsburg (284) and Grove City (229) and ahead of Lancaster (202).
"I wasn't even shaved and didn't have my good suit on, but I still went faster than I did all of last year," Eberhardt said. "That makes me excited for what can happen at district. My biggest goal is to make state and I think that swim showed that I can make it. (A championship suit) provides less resistance in the water. It keeps your hips up on the water more."
Eberhardt also was on the fifth-place 200 medley relay (1:53.24) with Sam Bechert, Braeden Lehrmann, Alex Rowles and Broderick Thompson. The 200 free relay of Neshmi Alhayek, Richard Cacenes-Gamero, Doug Graham and Thompson also was fifth (1:55.95).
Bella Jones placed third in the 500 free (5:54.14) and fourth in the 200 free (2:08.78) to lead the girls team to 129 points and sixth place in the league meet behind Gahanna (624), North (473), Lancaster (230) and Grove City and Reynoldsburg (197).
Jones also was on the fourth-place 200 free relay (1:57.7) with Makenna Garn, Kathleen Mowery and Abby Rainey.
"Bella looked terrific," coach Justin Dortch said. "She performed just as well as I expected and I expect her to get to district in those two (individual) events."
Wrestling team set to face Lions
The wrestling team will look to snap a two-match losing streak in the OCC-Ohio when it visits Gahanna on Thursday, Jan. 30.
Central fell to 1-2 in the league with a 66-9 loss at five-time defending champion Lancaster on Jan. 23.
The Tigers fared better two days later in the Washington Court House Bracket Tournament, finishing sixth (82 points) of 18 teams as Alexandria (Kentucky) Campbell County won (212.5).
Brycen Rogers finished second at 106 pounds, losing to Campbell County's Mason Orth 8-4 in the final. Nick Chesser placed third at 160 and Bo Branson (126) and Garrett Meek (heavyweight) earned fourth-place finishes.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 31 -- At Reynoldsburg. The Tigers defeated the Raiders 66-45 on Dec. 20.
Feb. 4 -- Home vs. New Albany
*Jan. 31 -- At Reynoldsburg. The Tigers defeated the Raiders 68-33 on Dec. 20.
*Feb. 3 -- At Lancaster. The Tigers defeated the Golden Gales 70-26 on Dec. 13.
Feb. 4 -- At New Albany
*Jan. 30 -- Dublin Scioto at Sawmill Lanes
*Jan. 31 -- Reynoldsburg at Holiday Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 31 -- Lancaster and Pickerington North at Robert K. Fox Family YMCA
*Jan. 30 -- At Gahanna