Pickerington Central Roundup: Defense paced Tigers girls basketball team to district title

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central's Jocelyn Tate and Newark's Peyton Lunsford fight for the ball during the Tigers' regional semifinal loss March 2. Defense was the calling card for the Tigers, who won their sixth consecutive Division I district championship.

Regardless of the adversity thrown the Pickerington Central girls basketball team’s way during the regular season, one in which it struggled to find rhythm and consistency until late because of two COVID-19 quarantines, the Tigers found themselves exactly where they expected to be in early March.

While coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said the Tigers didn’t completely return to the form they displayed during a seven-game winning streak in late January and early February, a streak that grew to 11 after a quarantine that lasted from Feb. 7-19 for almost the entire varsity team, defense remained Central’s calling card as it won its sixth consecutive Division I district championship.

“That’s the staple of what we’ve done and what we’ve been for a long time,” Hedgepeth said. “(Senior forward) Jocelyn (Tate) and (sophomore guard) Madison (Greene) are great on-ball defenders and great on help side. They create a lot of chaos for teams.”

Central finished 13-7 overall after a 65-26 loss to Newark in a regional semifinal March 2 at Westerville South, a marked departure from the Tigers’ first four postseason games.

The Tigers allowed an average of 32.8 points in that stretch, including holding host and fourth-seeded Westerville North without a field goal for the first 14 minutes, 2 seconds and forcing 18 turnovers in a 57-37 district semifinal win Feb. 24 and limiting fifth-seeded Watterson to 28 points in a 20-point district final win three days later.

Central was seeded seventh in the district.

“Keeping other teams under 40 is our goal. We feel like it’s been a strength all year but with quarantines, we haven’t been able to show it,” said Tate, a Bowling Green recruit and first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division honoree. “As soon as we got where we wanted to be, something like COVID happens and it set us back but we tried to overcome that.

“It’s the bond we have knowing where each other will be on help-side. We just have a good bond and know how to anticipate passes.”

Newark, which defeated Central by a combined 19 points in two league games, took quick control of the regional semifinal by hitting its first 10 shots and reeling off a 16-0 run after an early 3-all tie. The Wildcats made 12 3-pointers and led 47-15 at halftime.

Sophomore forward Berry Wallace had nine points and Greene added six to lead the Tigers, who went 4-3 in the OCC-Buckeye to place third behind champion Newark (10-0).

“We felt like we had an opportunity after the first two games, but we came out with jitters and nerves and we were missing assignments and it cost us,” Hedgepeth said. “We told the girls after we were 2-6, nobody believed we would make it this far. We quarantined twice. It was a tough year to rebound through the district and get here. It’s one of the better years I can remember considering all the adversity.” 

Senior guard Skye Williams, a Purdue recruit, averaged 8.6 points and was named first-team all-league. Greene (9.6 points) was second-team all-league and sophomore forward Olivia Cooper (7.4 points) was honorable mention all-league.

Other players eligible to return include junior Kyah Ewing (guard), sophomore Brooklyn Wallace (center/forward) and freshman Berry Wallace (forward).

“We had a lot of energy,” Greene said before the Newark game. “We’ve known we had to play hard just to get this far.”

Griffith, Hargrow

advance to district

Cameron Griffith and Mekhi Hargrow of the wrestling team both finished fourth in a Division I sectional Feb. 27 at Upper Arlington, leading Central to 46 points and 11th place of 12 teams behind the host and champion Golden Bears (241).

Both went 2-2 at sectional. Griffith took a team-best 17-10 record into the district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby, and Hargrow was 11-9.

Also competing but failing to advance were Nick Chesser (160, 2-3, sixth), Ray Jackson (heavyweight, 1-3, sixth), Caden Gilbert (132, 1-2), Macaiah Thompson (120, 1-2), Ian Camp (145, 0-2), Landon Gentry (126, 0-2) and Onyedikachi Ikwuakam (182, 0-2).

At district, the top four finishers in each weight class qualified for state March 13 and 14 at Darby.

Sonny Styles and Central played for the program's eighth Division I district title in 10 years when the Tigers visited Hilliard Bradley on March 6.

Boys basketball team

advances to final

The boys basketball team played for its eighth Division I district championship in 10 years when it visited third-seeded Hilliard Bradley on March 6.

The sixth-seeded Tigers put a 12-game winning streak on the line against the Jaguars.

Central advanced with a 62-34 home win over 14th-seeded Olentangy in a district semifinal March 3. Garner Wallace scored 17 points, Devin Royal had 15 points and Sonny Styles added 11 for the Tigers, who led only 19-14 late in the second quarter but pulled away with a 12-0 run late in the third to make it 41-19.

The district champion will play Pickerington North or Westerville Central in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican. That winner will return to ODU on March 13 for the regional final against Gahanna, Newark, Olentangy Liberty or Reynoldsburg.

Central defeated Newark 63-60 on Dec. 19 and 52-30 on Jan. 22, beat Reynoldsburg 57-47 on Jan. 15 and 63-45 on Feb. 19 and lost to Gahanna 65-51 on Dec. 22.

The regional champion will advance to a state semifinal March 20 at the University of Dayton.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Record: 13-7 overall

OCC-Buckeye standings: Newark (10-0), Reynoldsburg (7-2), Pickerington Central (4-3), Lancaster (3-6), Groveport (2-6), Central Crossing (0-9)

Seniors lost: Fatima Bangura, Azariah Binford, Malea Bess, Kyah Ewing, Tristen Keuchler, Jocelyn Tate and Skye Williams

Key returnees: Olivia Cooper, Madison Greene and Berry Wallace

Postseason: Defeated Licking Heights 55-31; def. Upper Arlington 65-35; def. Westerville North 57-37; def. Watterson 48-28; lost to Newark 65-26 in Division I regional semifinal