Shorthanded for much of the second half because two of its starters were in foul trouble, the Pickerington Central girls basketball team ultimately couldn’t keep up with Newark in a 70-54 loss in a Division I regional final March 6 at Otterbein.

Nicole Stephens’ 23 points, including a heave from about 60 feet at the end of the third quarter to tie the game at 45, led the Tigers. But the Wildcats’ depth took over from there and they ended the game on a 22-6 run, including going 16-for-17 from the free-throw line to deny Central a third consecutive trip to the state tournament.

Gabby Stare’s 26 points, 14 of which came in the final 4 minutes, 40 seconds of the first half, led Newark, which improved to 26-2 and will play Canton GlenOak in a state semifinal March 13 at Ohio State’s St. John Arena.

Stare also had eight rebounds. Emma Shumate had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats, and Gwen Stare added 18 points.

Central’s Madison Greene and Jocelyn Tate, who had keyed the Tigers’ defensive effort, fouled out in the fourth quarter, as did Olivia Cooper.

“We felt like with Madison and Jocelyn on Emma and Gabby, we could help more and even though our bench is great, it’s still different from having those two out there,” Central coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said. “(Stephens) is a senior and we expect that from her, but she had a lot of heavy lifting tonight. She had to carry a lot of the load with ball-handling (and) chasing Gabby around as much as she could.”

Central’s lead peaked at 22-12 with 6:37 left in the first half on a 3-pointer by Felesia Ondongo.

Newark shot 20-for-37 (54.1 percent) from the field and outrebounded Central 30-21.

Ondongo added 12 points for the Tigers, who shot 16-for-49 (32.7 percent) and finished 22-6.

“We didn’t make as many 3-pointers as we usually do, but we got some baskets around the rim,” Wildcats coach J.R. Shumate said. “We haven’t played a close game for a long time. We haven’t been behind for a long time, either. For us to get behind early and then show some resilience was sweet.”

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