COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Between now and Thursday, we will have an idea of what two teams will battle for the Columbus region and represent the Central District at the state tournament.
Let's take a look at the first of two Division I regional semifinal matchups at Ohio Dominican.
Ohio Dominican University - 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Pickerington North defeated Newark, 59-58 on March 11, 2017 (district final)
Outlook: "Nobody thought you were going to be sitting here, nobody," Jeff Quackenbush said to his Newark team prior to its Division I district title win over Olentangy Orange. "So in my opinion, we got nothing to lose."
The Newark cinderella run moves on to Wednesday's Division I regional semifinal at Ohio Dominican against former OCC-Ohio foe Pickerington North. In a rematch of a Division I district final that took place nearly two years ago to the day, Newark is looking for revenge against a Pickerington North team that is favored coming into Wednesday's showdown.
Both teams enter the semifinal rolling after district final wins against unexpected opponents. While it appeared at the tournament draw that Pickerington North might match up with No. 2 Hilliard Bradley and Newark might match up with No. 1 Dublin Coffman, the district semifinals did both teams favors as the Jaguars were upset by No. 17 Thomas Worthington and the top-seeded Rocks were upset by No. 13 Olentangy Orange.
Pickerington North controlled its district final matchup from the outset, using its size, physicality and athleticism to blow past the short-handed Cardinals, while Newark used a big 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to hold off a hot-shooting Orange squad. Advancing to the regionals, both teams had a ton of production to replace coming into a season where neither one of them were expected to be among the elite of the elite in the area. Getting better each game, young Pickerington North and Newark squads will now square off for a spot in the regional finals on Saturday.
North is led up front by sophomore Jack Sawyer, a physical mismatch for nearly every high school team at 6-foot-6. Sawyer can do literally everything on the floor and will likely be the key focus of Newark's defensive game plan. Sawyer is joined by a duo of wings in 6-foot-4 junior Hunter Shedenhelm and 6-foot-3 junior Chris Scott that have been outstanding this season. Shedenhelm is a terrific perimeter defender and elite level shooter while Scott is the glue guy that seems to make an impact in every area of the game.
In the backcourt, sophomores Idris Lawrence and Casey George have been solid all season. Lawrence is an aggressive slashing guard that can get to the rim while George does a little bit of everything and provides North with a spark off the bench. The Panthers feature a slew of senior role players that all have football experience, as senior forward Adrien Clarke will start alongside Sawyer in the front court, while wing Mike Lowery and guard Jaylon Baylor should see some important minutes in the semifinal showdown.
For Newark, it all starts with senior Keshawn Heard. The only player in Wednesday's game who logged minutes in the 2017 district title showdown between these two teams, Heard has developed into the leader that the Wildcats needed him to be. At 6-foot-7, the senior post is the likely matchup with Sawyer, as Heard is the best shot blocker left in the tournament. Heard can knock down the mid-range jumper, has greatly improved as a post scorer and will need to show up tonight in order for the Wildcats to advance.
Outside of Heard, Newark has a bevy of young players who have all made great strides this year. Sophomore guard Kade Bafford is a two-year starting point guard that provides Newark with toughness and consistency up front. Junior guard Bobby Crenshaw is the team's best athlete and a special defensive player, while sophomore wing Drew Ballinger is Newark's best shooter and comes in hot after going 6-for-8 from three in the district final win over Orange.
The x-factor could end up being junior wing Jaden Woods, who seems to really elevate this team when he is dialed in and playing well. Woods has good size and versatility at 6-foot-4 and will need a strong showing on Wednesday.
Two of the area's best coaches in Quackenbush and Jason Bates will square off in what should be a great regional semifinal matchup. Newark sold out of all their tickets for Wednesday already, as you can anticipate the Wildcat faithful will be loud and rowdy from the opening tip. North has the advantage with its personnel, however, don't count out a Newark team that has played above expectations up to this point.
If North can get Scott and Shedenhelm going to compliment Sawyer, who will likely be faced with multiple defenders all night, the Panthers should be able to advance for what could be a second all-Pickerington regional final in three years.