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The Region Runs Through Pickerington: Tigers Return to Dayton

By Greg Glasser, 03/11/23, 5:45PM EST


Devin Royal looked like Mr. Ohio as the Tigers hold off Orange in a thriller

ATHENS, Ohio -- The final matchup between the two remaining Division I area teams was one to remember, as Pickerington Central took the game's final lead in the last minute and held off Olentangy Orange, 57-53 at Ohio University, to win their second straight regional championship.

In a game that featured 11 lead changes and six ties in the second half alone, senior forward and Ohio State signee Devin Royal finished through traffic to give the Tigers a 54-53 lead with 45 seconds and later sunk two free throws to cap his MVP-like day with 29 points and six rebounds. 

The defending state champions utilized their composure and experience to withstand an Orange team, who were in their first ever regional championship, that significantly shot the ball better than the Tigers, particularly from deep. 

Although both teams finished with a similar field goal percentage, the Pioneers were 11-of-20 from behind the arc while the Tigers were just 3-of-16. 

The Orange senior trio of guards Jordan EdwardsElias Lewis and Mikey McCollum all scored in double figures and repeatedly made timely plays. Lewis, who is arguably the area's best unsigned 2023 prospect, was locked in and led with 18 points, which included 4-of-6 from deep and 7-of-9 overall. McCollum, a Hillsdale signee, was just as lethal, and made five threes on his 15 point day. Edwards, an Ashland signee, scored 12 points and led the game with six assists.

"They have three great senior guards, hats off to those guys," Central head coach Eric Krueger said. "We knew going in it would be a big challenge, but obviously we made enough plays to slow them down and do just enough to win."

In a game where no team had a lead greater than five points, for each big three the Pioneers made, the Tigers consistently responded. Offensively, most of that production was on the back of Royal, who was 13-of-18 and scored 18 of his total points in the second half and scored four of Central's final five points. It was another composed and dominant, Mr. Ohio-type performance for a player that is looking to add another state championship ring on his already accomplished résumé.

"We've had some great players over the years, but Devin is one of the most composed guys we've ever had," Krueger said. "The biggest thing is his work ethic. He's really put in a lot of time and effort into his game and I have a lot of confidence in him to make a play for us."

While Royal dominated the stat sheet, Central once again received the benefit of each supporting player that maximized their role. Senior Andrew Hedgepeth made all three of the Tigers' connected long-range attempts and secured the game-winning rebound and final free throw to finish with 10 points. 

Listed at a generous 6'1, senior guard Markell Johnson displayed his selfless brand of hustle plays that included eight points, seven rebounds and four assists that all seemed to come at crucial moments. 

"We're at our best when everyone is contributing," Krueger said. "Night in and night out, different guys step up in different games. That's the mark of a great team and our goal is to continue to do that."

Krueger and the Tigers are now on the path for unprecedented greatness, as they look to become the first area Division I team to repeat as state champions.

They'll first have to defeat the winner of Centerville and Fairfield in the semifinals, which will take place Saturday at 5:15pm at University of Dayton. The Tigers should have an attentive eye on Centerville, the team they beat in last year's championship, but lost to earlier this season in double overtime.

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