COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With a trip to its first regional final since 2012 on the line, No. 1 Pickerington Central played like a team on a mission on Wednesday in a dominating 75-53 win over No. 8 St. Charles.
Racing out to a 20-7 lead after the first quarter, Pickerington Central took control of the pace and never looked back. As sophomore point guard Jeremiah Francis and senior center Sterling Manley paced the Tiger attack, Pickerington Central extended its lead to 39-17 at the half.
Francis and Manley combined for 29 points in the first half, giving Pickerington Central a dominant one-two punch that St. Charles just could not account for. Opening up the flood gates in the second half, Pickerington Central led by as much as 32 points early in the fourth quarter, playing its best game to make a statement to the rest of the area.
Cruising to a 75-53 win in the final minutes, Pickerington Central advances to its first regional final since 2012 after losing in semifinal games in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Leading the way for the Tigers was Francis, who finished with a game-high 25 points. Physically dominating his matchup, Francis was a terror in the half court, in transition and on the defensive perimeter, as Pickerington Central rolled behind its talented floor general.
Manley added 23 points, coming out and playing with an aggression level that we hadn't seen out of him prior to Wednesday. In a primetime matchup against 6-foot-11 St. Charles senior center Nick Muszynski, Manley looked the part of an ACC caliber big man as the North Carolina signee performed in front of his future head coach in Roy Williams.
Junior wing Adrian Nelson added eight points and five rebounds, while four other players added three points for Pickerington Central.
For St. Charles, Muszynski led the way with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Muszynski held his own against the lengthy Manley, finishing on a couple tough scores inside. Senior guard Braden Budd added 12 points, while junior guard George Javitch pitched in 11 points. Senior wing Tavon Brown finished with eight points and seven rebounds, as a talented St. Charles senior class ends its career with three-straight Central Catholic League championships.
With the win, Pickerington Central advances to Saturday's regional final to take on the winner of No. 4 Upper Arlington and No. 9 Pickerington North on Saturday at 7 p.m. If Pickerington North is to win Thursday's semifinal matchup, Pickerington Central will get a rubber match against its archrival, which could make for a very interesting regional final.