Pickerington Central Roundup: Consistency at plate, on mound powers Tigers baseball team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central's Tyler Gillison (13) celebrates scoring a run with teammates Max Coffman (9) and Daniel Collier earlier this season against Dublin Coffman. The Tigers were 8-5 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Buckeye before playing Groveport on April 22.

Pickerington Central baseball coach Colin Wilson watched his team gain momentum leading into OCC-Buckeye Division play but said he didn’t notice anything special other than that his players increasingly were meeting expectations.

“We talk about trusting the process. We have to have good approaches at the plate and they’ve done that. Trust the process and good things will happen,” Wilson said. “We started a little rough, especially defensively. We hit the ball fairly well (early), but as the defense has picked up, our bats are still gaining momentum. We’re able to string two, three and four hits together and put runs on the board.”

Central largely has kept runs off the board as well, allowing a total of four runs in a four-game stretch from April 12-16 after giving up an average of four in its first eight contests. The Tigers were 8-5 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Buckeye Division before playing Groveport on April 22.

The starting rotation of Seth Kogge, Logan Kunkel and Colin Maynard accounted for four consecutive complete games, with Kogge throwing two in an 11-0, six-inning win at Newark to open league play April 12 and a 6-1 victory at Central Crossing on April 16.

Kogge also had two hits at Newark and two more to back up Kunkel’s six-strikeout, no-walk shutout of the Wildcats two days later as Central won 4-0.

“It always seems like the bats come hot as soon as we need them, and as a pitcher, you love to see that. When you don’t have your best stuff and the bats are there putting balls in play, things happen and you win games,” Kogge said. “A lot of us are keeping our pitch counts low. We’ve done a really good job of filling up the (strike) zone and not wasting too many pitches.”

Tigers hitters also have increasingly made opposing pitchers work deep into counts. After seeing just three pitches from Central Crossing pitcher Marquis Loring in the sixth inning April 16 but recording two outs, they saw 29 over the next inning-plus and scored all their runs.

“We’ve started to make pitchers work,” senior infielder Brandon Powers said. “We thought it might take a few weeks to get our feet under ourselves and we have. Most of our younger guys have found themselves and are settling in. Winning is a huge motivation and we’ve been doing more of that.”

Other contributors have included Max Coffman (3B), Daniel Collier (P/OF), Tyler Gillison (1B) and Trevor Woodyard (OF), all of whom are juniors.

“Luckily right now, we’re getting good things out of all three phases of the game (offense, defense and pitching),” Wilson said. “Guys are settling in. We have a solid group and they’re always working to get better.”

Evan Gallion moved from defensive specialist to outside hitter for the Tigers, who were 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Westerville South on April 22 for the program's best start since going 11-3 to open the 2016 season.

Volleyball team

overcomes adversity

The boys volleyball team got off to its best start in five years, winning eight of its first 11 matches and capturing 24 of 33 games in the process, only to lose three players to COVID-19 quarantines as the busiest stretch of the season approached.

Central was 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Westerville South on April 22. The Tigers won their first 16 sets of the season before suffering their first two losses, 22-25, 25-11, 25-16, 21-25, 15-11 to Gahanna on April 8 and 22-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-19 to New Albany on April 15.

It was Central’s best start since going 11-3 to begin the 2016 season.

“(Quarantines have) allowed opportunities for j.v. players to show me whether they deserve a spot permanently on varsity. We have a few juniors and seniors on j.v. we were able to pull up. If somebody can prove they belong and make our team better, that’s fine with me,” coach Luke Rininger said. “We have a lot of guys who really get along and that has translated onto the court.”

According to Rininger, juniors Connor Dubs (right-side hitter) and Brandon Sands (middle hitter/right-side hitter) have earned increasing varsity time. Classmate Evan Gallion moved from defensive specialist to an outside hitter role in which he plays all the way around the court, helping complement middle hitter Landon Tackett.

“We have a lot of height and athleticism and a key difference this year has been blocking,” Rininger said. “It’s great to stop the other team’s momentum with a big block.”

Central’s 25-18, 25-12, 25-19 loss at Thomas Worthington on April 19 was the first of seven scheduled matches in 11 days.

Tennis team

continues to roll

Boys tennis coach Kelli Rings said stability was a primary reason the Tigers were 8-3 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Buckeye before playing Lancaster on April 22.

Brady Phelps, Spencer Phelps and Quinn Jones have played first, second and third singles, respectively, all season. Caden Nixt and Jack Philabaum are playing first doubles, with Jacob Bennett, Ricky Caceres-Gamero and Cole Dashner rotating at second doubles.

“I’m thrilled with the progress. The singles guys are keeping their games going and playing strong, competitive matches and the doubles have just fallen into place,” Rings said. “They’ve gotten some really nice wins against some of the better teams we’ve played. We’re starting to see their abilities as well. When we’re playing those better teams and we can get a court or two that way, that’s really a highlight.”

Matches against Lancaster and Reynoldsburg on April 27 were all that stood between Central and its first outright league championship since 2003. The Tigers tied for the OCC-Ohio title in 2018.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave