Notebook: Pickerington Central Tigers softball team regains elite status

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Makenzie O'Neil and Colleen Bare (facing) share a hug following Central's 13-3 loss to Watkins Memorial in a Division I regional final May 29 at Olentangy Berlin. The Tigers, who finished 20-8, won their first district title since 2013 and were seeking their first state appearance since 2007.

Stephanie Peterson’s first season as Pickerington Central softball coach ended one win short of the Division I state tournament, and she wasted no time setting the bar higher for herself and her players.

“This group put us back on the map,” Peterson said after a 13-3, six-inning loss to Watkins Memorial in a regional final May 29 at Olentangy Berlin. “We used to be this good all the time and it’s been a while. We’re back.”

The Tigers, who finished 20-8, won their first district championship since 2013 despite being seeded 12th and were seeking their sixth state tournament appearance and first since 2007. 

Banners commemorating the program’s Division I title in 1997 and runner-up finish two years later are displayed prominently around the team’s home field.

Central, which defeated Mount Vernon 6-2 in a regional semifinal May 26 at Olentangy Orange, got six hits off Watkins Memorial freshman pitcher Carsyn Cassady in the final and benefited from two errors to tie the game at 3 in the fourth inning. 

But the Warriors — ranked second in the final state poll — scored five runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth to invoke the mercy rule.

“Offensively, (Cassady) was not a problem for us. Our defense is what hurt us in the end. She had a great game. She got hit and still pitched well,” Peterson said. “We’re going to score. We’re going to hit. Even after their five runs, we had the bases loaded again (in the sixth). Our offense is what we go to.”

Senior Sara Tailford (2B) led a balanced offense with 43 hits, ahead of juniors Colleen Bare (SS, 41 hits, team-leading 9 home runs) and Ellie Tressler (C, 41 hits, 6 home runs). 

Senior Tori Angles (OF) had 38 hits and eight homers, senior Tristen Keuchler (utility) had 31 hits and eight home runs and senior Kassidy Stanley (OF) finished with 37 hits.

Other players eligible to return include juniors Grace Barnett (P), Kyndal Mangahas (OF) and Carmen Moore (3B) and sophomore Lilli Burns (1B).

“They gave me everything they had all year,” Peterson said. “From the beginning of the year, from the first second I saw them at (batting practice) on our fields, everyone was hyped and ready to go. They led us all the way here. I cannot have asked more.”

North's Pavan Uppu returns the ball in a singles match against Medina Highland's Elijah Hadler during the Division I state tournament May 28 at Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Cincinnati. Uppu lost the match 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4).

North sophomore Pavan Uppu’s historic boys tennis season came to an end May 28 in the first round of the Division I state tournament, when he lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) to Medina Highland sophomore Elijah Hadler at Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Cincinnati.

The match was moved indoors from the Lindner Family Tennis Center because of bad weather.

Uppu was the first singles state qualifier in program history and the first North player to make state since the doubles team of Kyle Hilborn and Saumil Modi in 2007.

“This means a lot to me (in) my first year playing high school tennis. It was an adjustment early but I started to pick up toward the end of the season,” said Uppu, who called his forehand and serve his strengths.

Uppu usually played first singles and junior Cole Alcala played second singles for the Panthers, who went 9-6 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division.

“When (Uppu’s) serve is on, he has as good a serve as anybody,” coach Brian Hoff said. “He has so much acceleration through that and so much racket-head speed on his forehand that he’s very consistent.”

The majority of the lineup is eligible to return, including junior Kevin Wang and sophomores Oliver Eskander, Cooper Stotridge and Riley Wilson.

•Despite a 4-3, nine-inning loss at Berlin in a Division I district semifinal May 25, the North baseball team found itself full of optimism looking ahead.

Virtually the entire roster is expected to return, including several key freshmen, from a team that went 15-12 overall and 8-7 in the OCC-Ohio.

Eight regulars batted between .310 and .372 and had between 21 and 32 hits, led by juniors Kyle Koehler (P/INF/OF, .372, 32 hits) and Troy Cruse (OF, .371, 23 hits) and freshman Baylee Becker (P/INF, .364, 24 hits).

Koehler, classmates Eli Coppess (OF), Kirby Shaffery (P/1B) and Ethan Yurko (P/C/3B) and sophomore Harry Kreinbrink (P/OF) each hit two home runs. Shaffery had a team-leading 27 RBI and was 7-0 with a 2.18 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 15 walks in 45 innings.

North had won six of eight games before losing to Berlin.

“It’s amazing with young kids what confidence will do for you. It doesn’t matter what a coach says,” coach Tim Thomas said. “I think the first part of the season they were questioning whether they could play with these older guys and the last month, we saw a progression each week.

“Now the expectations (for 2022) start. It goes from not knowing what to expect to expectations starting now.”

Other players eligible to return include junior Reid Fleming (INF/OF), sophomore Adam Sadler (P/INF/C) and freshman Brett Madison (P/INF).

•All four of the North girls lacrosse team’s wins came after a COVID-19 quarantine at midseason, a stretch that coincided with the Panthers’ best overall play of a season in which they went 4-13 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Ohio.

“We stayed in games for longer and always fought until the end,” coach Christine Miller said. “We were able to move (several) players into ‘better fit’ positions. We had strong play from (junior) Abbie Wyckoff and (senior) Emma Boder on attack (and) our defensive stance grew stronger.”

According to Miller, senior Jada Moultair and juniors Ryona Gilmore, Kenna Jacobs and Arden Santa anchored the defense and freshman midfielder Kiera Bryant became the team’s primary draw specialist, while seniors Sydney Hopkins and Emma Townsend and junior Emma Rittman paced the offense.

Several other players are eligible to return, including juniors Avi Chiudioni (attacker), Lauren Dobias (midfielder) and Rylie Pennington (attacker) and sophomore Lydia Pope (midfielder). Sophomore Alexa Carte likely will move into goal, replacing the graduated Erin Boder.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

CENTRAL SOFTBALL

Record: 20-8 overall

OCC-Buckeye standings: Lancaster (9-1), Groveport and Pickerington Central (7-3), Newark (4-5), Reynoldsburg (1-7), Central Crossing (0-9)

Seniors lost: Tori Angles, Shayla Bailey, Tristen Keuchler, Makenzie O’Neil, Kassidy Stanley and Sara Tailford

Key returnees: Grace Barnett, Colleen Bare, Mia Doukakis, Carmen Moore and Ellie Tressler

Postseason: Defeated Worthington Kilbourne 10-0; def. Grove City 7-5; def. Hilliard Darby 5-2; def. Mount Vernon 6-2; lost to Watkins Memorial 13-3 (6 innings) in Division I regional final

NORTH BASEBALL

Record: 15-12 overall

OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (11-4), New Albany (10-5), Gahanna, Pickerington North and Westerville Central (all 8-7), Westland (0-15)

Seniors lost: Peyton Imboden, Jon Kelchner and Brandon Miller

Key returnees: Baylee Becker, Eli Coppess, Troy Cruse, Reid Fleming, Kyle Koehler, Harry Kreinbrink, Brett Madison, Adam Sadler, Kirby Shaffery and Ethan Yurko

Postseason: Def. Canal Winchester 6-1; lost to Olentangy Berlin 4-3 (9 innings) in Division I district semifinal

NORTH GIRLS LACROSSE

Record: 4-13 overall

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

Seniors lost: Liberty Battleson, Emma Boder, Erin Boder, Sydney Hopkins, Rylee Kreinbrink, Jada Moultair and Jackie Norris

Key returnees: Kiera Bryant, Alexa Carte, Rylie Pennington, Emma Rittman, Arden Santa and Emma Townsend

Postseason: Def. Hilliard Davidson 12-8; lost to Upper Arlington 19-4 in Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal

NORTH BOYS TENNIS

Record: 9-6 overall

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

Senior lost: Theo Miller

Key returnees: Cole Alcala, Oliver Eskander, Cooper Stotridge, Pavan Uppu, Kevin Wang and Riley Wilson