Pickerington Central boys basketball coach Eric Krueger struggled to name a particular instance in which Tahleik Walker has impacted a game this season for the Tigers -- largely because he couldn't decide which moment to pick.
"They all run together," Krueger said. "He played well at Flyin' to the Hoop against (Glendale, Arizona) Dream City Christian (a 62-47 win on Jan. 19). The game against Walnut Ridge at Ohio Dominican (on Jan. 25 as part of the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play by Play Classic), he led us. That was a breakout game for him. The whole second half, he hit big shots and just played really well. He was the catalyst for us coming back from 15 down. That game stands out to me as far as him being aggressive and making play after play."
Walker, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, recalled teammate Conner Maciag making a diving play to save the ball from going out of bounds with about five minutes left against Walnut Ridge. Walker then hit a 3-pointer to start a 14-3 run to end the game and finished with 19 points, a career high he later would exceed by three points Feb. 4 in a 65-50 win over New Albany.
"We came out slow (against Walnut Ridge and) we were down, but throughout the course of the game, we started sharing the ball more and everybody was making shots, including me," Walker said.
Walker, who is in his third year on varsity and plays both point and shooting guard, has been a key to Central earning the fourth seed in the Division I district tournament and remaining in contention for the OCC-Ohio Division championship into the final week of the season. The Tigers are 16-6 overall and finished 7-3 in the league with a 55-46 loss at Gahanna on Feb. 14.
A win would have created a first-place tie between the Tigers, Lions and Pickerington North.
Walker averaged 11.4 points before Feb. 14, just behind Maciag (13.9) and Garner Wallace (13.0).
Central will play host to 40th-seeded Mount Vernon in the first round of the district tournament Saturday, Feb. 22.
"Tahleik has become a more aggressive offensive player and is making more plays for us overall on both sides of the floor," Krueger said. "He's a big-time player and a leader for us and we'll continue to lean on him as we head into the tournament. We'll lean on a lot of guys. I think the one thing about our team this year is we don't have one guy who stands out above the rest. You could go down the line and we have a group of guys who if they are unselfish, they can accomplish a lot as a group."
Walker, who received his first scholarship offer from Alderson-Broaddus in late January, said he emphasized his mid-range jumper after last season and also has increased his 3-point presence.
"In the beginning of the season, I was known as more of a defensive player, but as the season has gone on, I've been scoring more and been more of a leader," Walker said. "I knew my role would be much bigger than last year because we (lost) 10 seniors (to graduation). I'm quick defensively. I can be disruptive. I'm trying to be consistent finishing at the basket, too."
The Central-Mount Vernon winner will play 37th-seeded Licking Heights in a second-round game Feb. 28 at the home of the better seed.
"The guys have to continue to stay mentally focused in their preparation," Krueger said.
"It's that time of year, the dog days of the year, as far as being in the middle of February. Great teams separate themselves from good teams."
Eberhardt leads swim team
Brett Eberhardt placed 14th in the 50-yard freestyle (21.99 seconds) and 18th in the 100 free (48.71) to lead the boys swimming team in the Division I district meet Feb. 13 at Ohio State.
Eberhardt also was on the 19th-place 200 free relay (1:36.83) with Richard Caceres-Gamero, Braeden Lehrman and Alex Rowles and the 21st-place 400 free relay (3:37.01) with Lehrman, Rowles and Broderick Thompson.
The 200 medley relay of Sam Bechert, Caceres-Gamero, Lehrman and Rowles was 24th (1:53.94).
Eberhardt's individual finishes accounted for all of Central's three points, and the Tigers finished 22nd behind champion Upper Arlington (381.5) as 23 teams scored.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Here's a list of state qualifiers.
The girls team did not score at district.
Paige Christy was 21st in the 100 backstroke (1:01.02), Makenna Garn finished 27th in the 100 breaststroke (1:11.96) and Bella Jones was 29th in the 200 free (2:07.7). All three were on the 25th-place 400 free relay (4:00.7) with Abby Rainey.
The bowling teams will open the postseason this week at HP Lanes.
The boys team will compete in the Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, with the girls competing the next day.