DAYTON, Ohio -- History could have been made, but ultimately wasn't meant to be. Pickerington Central entered Sunday night's state championship final at UD Arena against Akron Hoban with the hopes of becoming Central Ohio's first team to win back-to-back Division I state titles. Yet a fourth quarter where the Knights outscored the Tigers by six would be the difference towards a 53-47 Hoban victory.
Despite struggling to get into a consistent offensive rhythm for most of the game, the Tigers traded the lead with the Knights 11 separate times as they entered the final period tied at 31 each. Yet Central would be slightly outshot and out rebounded and seemed to be on the losing side of 50-50 balls as Hoban built a lead up to 12 points just under the four minute mark.
The Tigers would trim the deficit down to six with just over a minute to go, thanks to back-to-back baskets from sophomore Amare Spiva and senior Markell Johnson. The Knights would ultimately seal a strong enough cushion at the foul line and hold off the Tigers for the six point victory.
For a team that the past two years has seemingly had their enough share of fourth-quarter magic, most recently the night before against Centerville, the Tigers seemed to be out of potion on Sunday.
"We've been able to find that run in us all season long, especially in the tournament," Pickerington Central head coach Eric Krueger said. "We just didn't have much in the tank, we gave everything we had, but we were just gassed honestly."
The Tigers seemed to be out of sync offensively for most of the game, shooting 3-of-16 behind the arc and giving up 14 turnovers. Hoban's interior defensive post presence was noticeably disruptive, which did the unlikely task of limiting senior wing Devin Royal, the Mr. Ohio winner, to 5-of-15 shooting and 15 points overall. Royal was the only Tiger that attempted any free throws, an indication the Tigers guards had difficulty with their penetration.
"Their big, [Sam Greer], did a good job of protecting the basket, he made it hard," Krueger said. "We tried to get some drives to the basket and maybe could have some fouls honestly, but it didn't go the way we wanted and made it tougher. Then we didn't particularly shoot well from outside. Hard opportunities, it just wasn't mean to be."
Greer, the 6'8 freshman center, was arguably the biggest two-way difference maker. Also considered a top-tier football player, Greer caused consistent disruption defensively and was efficient offensively with 12 points.
The Knights received hot outside shooting from senior Logan Vowles, who was 5-of-9 from deep and led all scorers with 17 points. Senior guard Will Scott Jr. added 13 points, including three free throws in the final minute, along with eight rebounds.
In addition to Royal, the other Central scorers in double figures were seniors Gavin Headings and Johnson, who scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. Junior guard Juwan Turner, who had 14 points and was perfect on four long-range attempts the night before, was held to just three points. The Tigers only had six assists overall.
"Obviously everyone is upset, but this group is extremely accomplished, I love all these kids," Krueger said. "I'm proud of this group and our program for what we were able to accomplish this year and overall."
Proud should be an understatement for the five seniors that helped Central win their first state championship since 2012 and gave the Tigers an opportunity for an unprecedented repeat. This group will not only graduate the program's all-time leading scorer in Royal, but four other seniors in Headings, Johnson as well as Andrew Hedgepeth and RJ Keuchler that made significant contributions towards dozens of wins and two regional titles.
"The kids believed in each other all year and to get back to this point and have a chance to repeat, it takes a lot of energy and effort," Krueger said. "Our group has nothing to hold our heads about, we could have played better, but not hold our heads."
The Tigers should keep their heads up high indeed, as their accomplishments over the last two years should be remembered as one of the most memorable runs for a Central Ohio team over the past decade.