Notebook: Underdog Pickerington Central Tigers softball team relishes deep tournament run

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central’s Sara Tailford celebrates after scoring a run in a 6-2 win over Mount Vernon in a Division I regional semifinal May 26 at Olentangy Orange. The Tigers advanced to play Watkins Memorial in the regional final May 29.

Pickerington Central softball players thoroughly enjoyed their role of underdog as they got within one win of the program’s first Division I state tournament berth in 14 years, especially given that they were a thorn in the side to two state-ranked teams during their postseason run.

Having defeated eighth-ranked Grove City in a district semifinal, the Tigers showed how far they have come in a 6-2 win over sixth-ranked Mount Vernon in a regional semifinal May 26 at Olentangy Orange. The Yellow Jackets routed the Tigers 14-4 on March 27 in the season opener, but in Central’s first regional game since 2013, it took advantage of four errors and scored five unanswered runs after seeing an early 1-0 slip away.

“It’s meant a lot. There are teams out there that don’t really like us because Pick Central wins in a lot of sports,” said senior pitcher Kenzie O’Neil, who after giving up two runs in the third inning retired 11 of the final 12 batters. “I’ve played ball with these girls since we were little. We haven’t been this far in a while. It means a lot to our team.”

Colleen Bare and Sara Tailford each had two hits and an RBI as Central improved to 20-7 entering the regional final May 29 against second-ranked Watkins Memorial.

Ellie Tressler and Kyndal Mangahas started a two-run fourth inning with consecutive walks, Tressler scored on Colleen Moore’s RBI single and Tailford brought Mangahas in with a two-out RBI single.

Bare’s RBI double in the sixth made it 4-2, and two Mount Vernon errors plated two more Central runs.

“We went in there with a goal of just wanting to defeat them and showing how far we’ve come since we lost to them the first time,” Tailford said. “We’re not the same team as were.”

The regional champion plays North Ridgeville or Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in a state semifinal June 3 at Firestone Stadium in Akron. The winner will play for the state championship June 5.

“My catcher (Tressler) and I have been talking a lot about how things are falling into place for us, but I really think we’re just working hard and peaking at the right time,” coach Stephanie Peterson said. “We pick each other up every time.”

North's Pavan Uppu competed in the Division I state tournament May 28 and 29 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

•Pavan Uppu made history for the North boys tennis team as its first state singles qualifier, but the sophomore thought finishing fourth in the Division I district tournament May 22 at Reynoldsburg was only the beginning.

Uppu went 2-2 at district, losing 6-1, 6-1 to St. Charles’ Reece Yakubov in the third-place match. Uppu qualified for state May 20 with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Olentangy Orange’s Kallan Arledge.

“Ever since the beginning of the season, (state) had been a goal for me but maybe in the middle of the season, I started to pick up my game a little bit. I started thinking about this more. That’s when it became a real possibility for me,” Uppu said. “It means a lot.”

Uppu was North’s first state representative since 2007, when the doubles team of Kyle Hilborn and Saumil Modi qualified.

The top four finishers in singles and doubles at district advanced to state May 28 and 29 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

“Anytime you see something for the first time, it’s special. He deserves it. He works hard year-round. He’s just a solid player,” coach Brian Hoff said. “From day one, we thought if he played like he could, he’d have a solid chance. He started to peak at the right time.”

•The Central baseball team struggled during the final two weeks of the season, losing five of its last six games, but included in that stretch were a perfect game in the team’s postseason opener and a tooth-and-nail battle in the second round.

The 18th-seeded Tigers finished 13-16, losing 6-4 at seventh-seeded Hilliard Darby on May 19. Central took a 2-0 first-inning lead and came back to tie it at 4 in the fifth but allowed one run in each of the next two innings.

Seniors Seth Kogge (P/INF/OF) and Brandon Powers (INF) each had two hits for Central. Freshman pitcher Jacob Soha threw a perfect game in the first round two days earlier, striking out 14 in a 20-0, five-inning win over 45th-seeded Mifflin.

“We had some ups and downs,” coach Colin Wilson said. “We got hit by the injury bug in the middle of the season but the next man always stepped up.”

Other players eligible to return include juniors Max Coffman (P/INF), Daniel Collier (P/OF), Tyler Gillison (1B) and Trevor Woodyard (P/OF).

•Although the Central girls lacrosse team will graduate one of the program’s best offensive players in attacker Grace Osborn and a record-setting defender in Tatum McElwain, eight starters are eligible to return after the Tigers went 14-4 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.

Osborn, a Capital recruit, scored a season-record 107 goals and had a team-leading 155 draw controls and 63 ground balls. Her 10 goals in the season opener at Hilliard Bradley and 15 draw controls against both Granville and Olentangy Orange were single-game records.

McElwain had 47 caused turnovers and 94 in her career, both records.

Junior goalie Megan Liston made 82 saves, and the defense allowed 142 goals, lowest in program history.

“Our assistant coaches deserve a lot of credit for our success,” said coach Brian Walton, whose eighth-seeded team lost 15-12 to fifth-seeded Dublin Jerome in the second round of the Division I, Region 3 tournament May 17. “Anastasia Fries has been running our defense since 2018. Each season she’s been here our goals allowed per game has gone down. …

“Maggie Maley (a former head coach at Gahanna) worked primarily with our goalies but also had a lot of input on offense. She convinced me to loosen our offensive structure to allow more ad-libbing and it resulted in us averaging almost 16 goals scored per game.”

Other starters eligible to return are juniors Jada Easler (defender), Kayla Godwin (attacker), Brooklyn Miller (midfielder/defender), Brenna Todd (midfielder/defender), Heather Stoner (midfielder/attacker), Holly Stoner (defender) and sophomore Olivia Cooper (midfielder).

•Three program records were set for the North boys lacrosse team, which went 10-6 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio, one game behind champion New Albany (5-0).

Midfielder Cayden Christopher scored 61 goals, a sophomore record and third in program history.

Junior attacker Bennet Trout scored 36 goals, set records for assists in a season (46) and game (7) and finished with 82 points. That is third in program history, second only to his older brother, 2017 graduate Landon Trout, who holds the top two spots with 105 and 99 points in separate years.

Senior attacker Landon Schneider had 31 goals as the Panthers, who were seeded eighth in the Division I, Region 3 tournament, lost 18-5 at seventh-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a second-round game May 18.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

CENTRAL BASEBALL

Record: 13-16 overall

OCC-Buckeye standings: Lancaster (13-2), Central Crossing (11-4), Newark and Central (both 7-8), Reynoldsburg (4-11), Groveport (3-12)

Seniors lost: Brenden Bellestri, Seth Kogge, Logan Kunkel, Colin Maynard, Brandon Powers and Ryan Sauline

Key returnees: Max Coffman, Daniel Collier, Tyler Gillison and Jacob Soha

Postseason: Defeated Mifflin 20-0; lost to Hilliard Darby 6-4 in second round of Division I district tournament

CENTRAL GIRLS LACROSSE

Record: 14-4 overall

OCC-Ohio standings: New Albany (4-0), Central (3-1), North (2-2), Gahanna (1-3), Westerville Central (0-4)

Seniors lost: Maha Arain, Lauren Jaeger, Megan Lang, Tatum McElwain, Grace Osborn, Riley Smith and Taylor Staten

Key returnees: Olivia Cooper, Jada Easler, Kayla Godwin, Megan Liston, Brooklyn Miller, Heather Stoner, Holly Stoner and Brenna Todd

Postseason: Lost to Dublin Jerome 15-12 in second round of Division I, Region 3 tournament

NORTH BOYS LACROSSE

Record: 10-6 overall

OCC-Ohio standings: New Albany (5-0), North (4-1), Westerville Central (3-2), Pickerington Central (2-3), Gahanna (1-4), Newark (0-5)

Seniors lost: Reid Bender, Justin Cook, Ryan Mack, Lucas Schneider, Kalib Severt, Josh Smith and Tyler Wade

Key returnees: Cayden Christopher and Bennet Trout

Postseason: Lost to Hilliard Davidson 18-5 in second round of Division I, Region 3 tournament