Notebook: Pickerington Central Tigers softball squad thriving with small ball

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Grace Barnett and Central faced Grove City in a Division I district semifinal May 17. The winner played Dublin Coffman or Hilliard Darby for a district championship May 19.

That her Pickerington Central softball team remained in contention for a share of the OCC-Buckeye Division championship until the final day of league play was only one reason coach Stephanie Peterson was encouraged entering the Division I district tournament.

The Tigers went 11-4 in April and began May with two important wins, including a 6-5 victory at Lancaster on May 5 that pulled them to within a game of the league-leading Golden Gales. 

Another came against Grove City, 15-10 on May 1 in the Tune-Up Showcase at Pickerington North. The Greyhounds, the second seed in the district, were ranked seventh in the state at the time.

Central, the 12th seed in the district, was 17-7 overall after defeating 38th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 10-0 on May 12 in the second round of the tournament. 

The Tigers were scheduled to face Grove City again in a district semifinal May 17, with the winner advancing to a district final May 19 against 11th-seeded Hilliard Darby or 24th-seeded Dublin Coffman at the home of the better seed.

Central, which was 6-3 in the OCC-Buckeye before playing Central Crossing on May 13, fell 5-3 to Groveport in league play May 11.

“I feel like we might be peaking at the right time. We’re stringing hits together and girls are taking advantage of opportunities,” Peterson said. “We’re moving runners and doing our job at the plate. Not everybody is trying to hit home runs all the time anymore. We’ve been sacrifice bunting and doing little things.”

Home runs have remained an important part of the game for Central, however. Tristen Keuchler’s solo homer in the seventh inning was the game-winner at Lancaster, after Carmen Moore had a three-run homer earlier in the game to help hand the Gales their first league loss.

On May 6 in an 11-1 league win over Reynoldsburg, Mackenzie O’Neil’s three-run home run — the first of her career — invoked the mercy rule in the sixth inning.

O’Neil was injured earlier in the season but has shared pitching duties with Grace Barnett and Mia Doukakis.

“I play outfield for travel but for (Central), pitching is just about it for me,” O’Neil said. “I’m more of a groundball pitcher, so I try to throw hitters off with my curve. I might not have as many strikeouts as other pitchers but my infield backs me up and we get outs. Our defense has been strong, and we’ve been able to string hits together.”

•While the North boys lacrosse team fell a win short of the OCC-Ohio championship, coach Kurt Restuccio applauded his defense and a few offensive standouts in particular as the Panthers finished the regular season at 10-5 overall.

They went 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio, losing 16-7 at New Albany on May 4 in the game that determined the league championship.

“Our games have come out a bit of a rollercoaster this season as we try to find our rhythm and identity moving forward. Our defense has been solid all year and they’ve kept us in games, but in lacrosse it will typically come down to your ability to score,” Restuccio said. “Our seniors at any position have been our ‘gut-check grinders,’ have done anything and everything we’ve asked of them and never flinched when their teammates needed more of them.”

Cayden Christopher had 58 goals and 13 assists during the regular season, while Bennett Trout added 46 assists and 35 assists.

Seeded eighth in Division I, Region 3, North visited seventh-seeded Hilliard Davidson for its postseason opener May 18. The winner plays third-seeded St. Charles or 16th-seeded Gahanna on May 21.

Central girls lacrosse standout Grace Osborn scored her 200th career goal May 6 during a 15-4 win over Kilbourne, the Tigers’ seventh consecutive victory as they sought to enter the Division I regional tournament on a high note.

Osborn, a Capital recruit, is the fourth player in program history to score 200 goals but the first to do so in three seasons. She had 89 goals and 22 assists before a May 11 game against Columbus School for Girls, as well as 133 draw controls and 28 caused turnovers.

“Grace has been a force. She not only scored her 200th career goal against Kilbourne, but she’s been great on draws,” coach Brian Walton said. “Our offense is playing really well and the girls have great chemistry, but the defense has been a pleasant surprise. We’re on pace to have the lowest goals against in program history (113 through 15 games). It seems like Tatum McElwain is everywhere. She's on pace to set a program record for caused turnovers.”

Walton also credited the defensive play of Jada Easler, Brooklyn Miller, Holly Stoner and Brenna Todd — calling Stoner “the glue” of the unit — in front of goalie Megan Liston.

Central was 13-3 before playing Delaware on May 13.

Seeded eighth in Division I, Region 3, the Tigers opened the postseason May 17 at fifth-seeded Dublin Jerome. The winner advanced to play fourth-seeded Dublin Scioto or ninth-seeded Springboro on May 21, with the winner advancing to a regional semifinal May 24.

Eli Coppess and North opened the Division I district tournament May 17 against Whitehall. The winner played at Canal Winchester on May 19.

•The North baseball team finished the regular season in a competitive OCC-Ohio race, as five of the six teams in the league had at least six wins entering play May 13.

The Panthers were 11-10 overall and 7-6 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Westerville Central on May 13, the last of four games in as many days to finish league play. North was three games behind first-place Grove City in the loss column but remained in the tight pack by defeating the host Greyhounds 10-6 in eight innings May 10.

Ethan Yurko’s RBI single and Reid Fleming’s three-run double provided the difference.

North held off Gahanna 6-5 on May 11 and fell to New Albany 10-0 in five innings the next day before playing host to 46th-seeded Whitehall on May 17 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. The Panthers were seeded 17th of 47 teams.

The North-Whitehall winner played at ninth-seeded Canal Winchester on May 19, with that winner advancing to a district semifinal May 25 against 11th-seeded Olentangy Berlin, 24th-seeded Kilbourne or 40th-seeded Delaware.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave