Pickerington Central Roundup: Injuries fail to derail Tigers boys basketball team's run to OCC title

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central coach Eric Krueger celebrates with his team following a 63-45 win over Reynoldsburg on Feb. 19 that gave the Tigers the outright OCC-Buckeye Division title.

Given how the regular season progressed for the Pickerington Central boys basketball team, it might have been fitting that almost every Tigers player saw the floor Feb. 19 during a 63-45 win over Reynoldsburg that clinched the outright OCC-Buckeye Division championship.

In a year fraught with injuries, Central had to rely on its depth to put together a late-season surge into the Division I district tournament — something coach Eric Krueger made sure his team realized.

One of those injured players, senior guard Deshon Evans, found himself brought to tears in the postgame celebration as he and his teammates cut down the nets.

Cleared earlier in the week after missing the entire season with a right meniscus injury, Evans scored his first points on a layup with 1 minute, 40 seconds to play. That gave the Tigers a 60-40 lead and brought the entire bench to its feet with smiles and fist pumps.

“It was amazing to finally be back out there with my brothers. It felt good,” Evans said. “When our coaches started talking about all we’d been doing and all that happened, there was definitely some emotion.

“We’re all excited to see how far we can go. There’s a lot of season left.”

Central went 10-0 in the OCC-Buckeye to win its seventh league championship in 10 seasons, a run that began with the state championship season of 2011-12. Seeded seventh in the district tournament, the Tigers won their final nine regular-season games and were 13-4 overall before playing host to 45th-seeded Mifflin in a second-round game Feb. 26.

As with most of the season, the Tigers entered the tournament shorthanded. Forward Sonny Styles was injured in mid-February and wore a walking boot on his left foot during the Reynoldsburg game, and forward Devin Royal appeared to hurt his right ankle during the second half but was able to return for the fourth quarter.

Forward Elhadji Thiam continued to recover from a torn labrum entering the postseason.

“Guys have stepped up and played their roles with no complaints,” Krueger said. “Now we have further goals and we have to take it one game at a time and hope we can stay healthy. Just keep on keepin’ on.”

The Central-Mifflin winner faced 14th-seeded Olentangy, 16th-seeded St. Charles or 43rd-seeded Zanesville in a district semifinal March 3.

The semifinal winner will play third-seeded Hilliard Bradley, 12th-seeded Westerville South, 22nd-seeded Westerville North or 32nd-seeded Marion Harding in a district final March 6 at the home of the better seed.

The district champion will advance to a regional semifinal March 11.

“We didn’t want (the league title) to be the only thing,” said senior guard/forward Garner Wallace, who was out in late December and early January with an injury. “We want this to be as good as it can be and take it as long as we can.”

Girls bowler Arnet

advances to state

For the first time in its eight-year history, the girls bowling team will be represented in the Division I state tournament.

Jaycie Arnet, a junior, rolled a 575 three-game series at district Feb. 22 at HP Lanes to finish seventh of 104 individuals and earn a state berth. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state March 5 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.

Central finished sixth (3,182) of 16 teams behind champion Gahanna (3,938), 229 pins behind fourth-place Olentangy. Also competing for the Tigers were Kylie Finan (tied for 35th, 472), Alex Tulius (71st, 408), Allison Whisman (73rd, 402), Sydney Brown (87th, 286) and Mikayla Hodge (100th, 116).

The boys team’s only district qualifier, Jared Baden, finished 70th (477) of 106 individuals to fall short of a state berth.

Alex Rowles is one of two seniors whom the Central boys team will lose to graduation. The other is Division I district qualifier Brett Eberhardt.

Key girls to return

for swimming team

While the boys swimming and diving team graduates its only Division I district qualifier in Brett Eberhardt, all of the girls team’s district competitors are eligible to return.

Eberhardt finished seventh in the 50-yard freestyle (21.75 seconds) and 13th in the 100 free (48.07) on Feb. 21 at Bowling Green.

The girls team’s only individual qualifier, junior Makenna Garn, finished 21st in the 100 breaststroke (1:10.19) and 24th in the 50 free (25.93) and was on the 16th-place 400 free relay (3:57.36) with classmate Bella Jones, sophomore Abby Marquardt and freshman Audrie Dashner.

“(The district meet) was faster than I expected. It was a great (postseason) to watch. The girls and Brett swam the best they could; they finished strong,” said coach Maura Parker, who was in her first season at Central. “After three years of being an assistant in Westerville, it’s a lot different being a head coach. It was my own program. The kids really took what I was giving to them to heart. I’m a technique coach. I like to work on little things and make everything unique. I like to mix things up and for some of these kids, it was great to see what they were capable of. We were a well-rounded team.”

Other boys eligible to return include juniors Ricky Caceres-Gamero, Jared Everhart and Alex Shinaver, sophomores Cole Dashner and Doug Graham and freshman Dom D’Errico.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

SWIMMING & DIVING

Seniors lost: Boys — Brett Eberhardt and Alex Rowles; Girls — Jaida Plair

Key returnees: Boys — Ricky Caceres-Gamero, Dom D’Errico, Cole Dashner, Jared Everhart, Doug Graham and Alex Shinaver; Girls — Audrie Dashner, Makenna Garn, Bella Jones and Abby Marquardt

Postseason: Boys — Second (193) at sectional behind Pickerington North (398), 20th (11) at district behind champion Upper Arlington (348.5); Girls — Third (147) at sectional behind champion UA (497), 24th (2) at district behind champion New Albany (378.5)