Pickerington North Roundup: Boys basketball team's Jerry Saunders embraces opportunity

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Junior guard Jerry Saunders has emerged as a key contributor for North, averaging 12.7 points through nine games while being asked to defend the opposition's best player.

The Pickerington North boys basketball team’s recent visit to Lakeview Junior High, ahead of its annual rivalry game with Ridgeview, evoked memories for coach Jason Bates and his players who once competed against Pickerington Central’s feeder school.

One of the Panthers’ current standouts, 6-foot-1 junior guard Jerry Saunders, once found himself listening to the high school players and hoping to be in their shoes one day.

Now that he is, Saunders has made himself one of the team’s top scorers and leading defenders.

Saunders averaged 12.7 points through nine games, second on the Panthers behind Casey George’s 19.7, and North was 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Westland on Jan. 29.

The Panthers also were ranked eighth in last week’s Division I state poll.

“That’s the best thing about having a feeder program, to see these guys come through and now we’re depending on (Saunders). It’s his time now,” Bates said. “Even in junior high you could tell he could score the ball. He was a really good shooter. As a freshman, he’d come in and hit two or three 3s in a game. He is a natural scorer.”

Saunders averaged 8.2 points last year, including a career-high 19 against Milton (Georgia) in the annual Flyin’ to the Hoop extravaganza at Kettering Fairmont, and was assigned to cover Jalen Sullinger for much of a Division I district final loss to Thomas Worthington. Generally not depended on for offense last year with George and Ashland recruit Hunter Shedenhelm leading the way, Saunders anticipated his role would increase on both ends this season.

“That starts with me for sure. I take full responsibility,” Saunders said. I just have to get in a better rhythm hitting more shots and producing more to keep the stress off Casey and the coaching staff. It’s all about being more consistent.”

Bates said he put Saunders on Sullinger, who since has committed to Kent State, partly as a test to gauge his abilities going forward.

“He’ll take charges and beat (an opponent) to the spot. He can help other guys while neutralizing his guy,” Bates said. “I see the signs I saw in Hunter Shedenhelm of (Saunders) being able to defend. He can score but him being able to defend the other team’s best player consistently every game (is key), and he has really stepped up to that challenge.

“The next big thing for his growth is just staying consistent on the offensive end.”

According to Bates, Saunders had one offer entering the week, from Concord. The realization of how far he has come hit Saunders a few times, including during a 53-51 double-overtime loss at Whitehall on Jan. 19.

“I’ve been in AAU tournaments there and it was great to get to play a high school game there,” Saunders said. “It’s nice to be one of the faces of Pick North basketball (after) guys like (Indiana’s) Jerome Hunter, Hunter Shedenhelm, Donnie (Palmer, who plays at Findlay), Eli (McNamara, who now is at Miami University), Ty Wiley and Chris Scott (who now play football at Ohio Dominican and Cincinnati). It’s a great experience to uphold that tradition. I’m having fun.”

Adi Dorman said she has "become more confident in attacking the basket" as North's point guard. She was averaging 5.8 points through 17 games for the Panthers, who were 6-11 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Grove City on Feb. 5.

Girls team continues

learning process

Girls basketball coach Silas Williams expected the ups and downs of this season, and despite the Panthers having lost five out of six games before playing Westland on Jan. 29, he believes the team still is on the right path and learning more from both its wins and losses.

“In every game this year, when we really dial it in, we can cause some problems,” Williams said. “We have some good rotations. Our freshmen from last year are sophomores now, so they’re understanding where to be. Our seniors are leading the way. We’re causing teams fits in situations, we just have to capitalize. Most games, we have.”

North was 5-9 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Ohio before Jan. 29, including a close loss to title contender New Albany (37-33 on Jan. 8) and a 59-42 loss at Gahanna on Jan. 15 in which the Panthers remained within single digits into the second half before the Lions thrived on 3-point shooting and some North turnovers to pull away.

Among the team’s individual highlights were Adi Dorman’s career-high 20 points in a 77-23 win over Westland on Jan. 12 and 17 points from Jada Moultair in the loss to Gahanna.

“Everybody is stepping up,” Williams said. “We’ve spread the ball out. It’s making things easier. We just have to get rid of those lulls. I’ve told the girls we have an opportunity to do something special. It’s not going to be overnight, but we’re on the doorstep. We just have to make sure to get better every single day.”

Robinson, Zumock among

bowling teams’ leaders

The bowling teams faced a busy final few weeks of the regular season, with 10 matches and one tournament scheduled from Jan. 26-Feb. 11.

The boys team was 2-2 overall and in the COHSBC-B before a Jan. 27 match against Dublin Scioto, and 1-1 in the OCC-Central before facing Reynoldsburg on Jan. 29. The girls were 2-3 overall and in the COHSBC-B and 1-1 in the OCC-Central.

Alex Zumock’s 204.8 pins per game average entering last week led the boys and was ninth in the COHSBC regardless of division. Jacob Neubauer averaged 185.1, ahead of Jack Rodgers (169.6) and Kyle Roberts (146.3).

Alana Robinson (152.3) and Evy Vance (134.3) paced the girls through four matches, during which 10 bowlers had competed in at least one game.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave