Pickerington Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth spoke of his team’s progression after a 62-56 win over rival Reynoldsburg in a Division I regional semifinal March 3 at Otterbein, and he meant more than the Tigers drawing within one win of their third consecutive state tournament.

“Our girls grew up a little more winning this game,” Hedgepeth said. “We talk about winning close games and the ability to make plays at the end. We got great finishes in transition … we got the kind of plays we needed, making plays at crucial moments.”

Jocelyn Tate’s 15 points and 11 rebounds led a balanced effort for Central, which used a 7-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to break a 44-all tie. Felesia Ondongo made a 3-pointer and Tate and Madison Greene hit layups to put the Tigers ahead for good and into a regional final against Newark on March 6 at Otterbein.

Tate also was on the receiving end of a pass from Nicole Stephens for a wide-open layup with 44 seconds left to give Central a six-point lead.

“I was very determined to do what I needed to do,” Tate said. “I’m one of the biggest people on the court (at 5-foot-11) so I simply had to do my job, go up strong and draw fouls. Getting all those rebounds helped me create fouls on them and it helped us score.”

Skye Williams had 15 points and seven rebounds, Ondongo added 11 points and Stephens scored 10 as the Tigers improved to 22-5 and defeated the Raiders for the 13th time in their last 15 meetings.

Mya Perry had a game-high 20 points and Kyria Walker scored 10 to pace Reynoldsburg, which led 42-41 after three quarters and finished 19-8.

“We were only down five (31-26) at halftime so it wasn’t an insurmountable lead, (but) we had some inopportune turnovers and we took some bad shots,” Reynoldsburg coach Jack Purtell said. “They had something to do with that.”

Newark 61, Gahanna 31

The Wildcats opened up a double-digit lead early in the second quarter of the other Division I regional semifinal March 3 at Otterbein and continued to pull away.

Gabby Stare made three 3-pointers in the first quarter to help Newark build a 13-6 lead.

In the second quarter, Gahanna got to within 20-9 on a basket by Bella Ward and a free throw by Morgan Darnell, but the Wildcats closed the period on a 10-4 run to take a 30-13 lead into halftime.

Maddie Vejsicky scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers, in the third quarter as Newark extended its lead to 44-24.

The Wildcats, who are making their sixth consecutive regional appearance, improved to 25-2 and advanced to a regional final for the first time since 2017.

“We were just trying to keep them off the 3-point line,” said Lions coach Ron Bailey, whose team finished 20-7. “They’re so good at moving without the ball, setting screens, it’s hard. They pass, they cut, they move. (Stare) came out and hit three 3s quick and that set the tone.”

Ward had 12 points and Gabby Anderson scored eight to lead Gahanna, while Vejsicky finished with 19 points and Stare scored 17 to lead Newark.

“They’ve got so many weapons that it’s hard to key on one person,” Bailey said.

—Jarrod Ulrey

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