PICKERINGTON — A quick start that resulted in an eight point lead proved to be decisive as the Waterford Lady Wildcats used their 9-1 start to their regional semifinal contest with the Fisher Catholic Irish to help guide them to a 54-43 win at Pickerington High School North Thursday night.
That eight point lead proved to be a balance point in the contest as the Wildcats couldn’t pull away from Fisher Catholic but the Irish couldn’t draw too close to Waterford either.
“They (Fisher Catholic) played hard all night. We weren’t able to pull away from them,” Waterford head coach Jerry Close said.
While they never led in the contest the Irish were able to keep the deficit at that eight point margin much of the night and were able to close it down to five on Katie Griffin’s offensive rebound and putback at the end of the first quarter to trail 16-11 after one period of play.
The Wildcats opened the second quarter on a 7-2 run to push the lead to 10 after junior guard Jessi Drayer connected on a two-pointer off an assist from Kaitlyn Stewart and was fouled.
“I think we really came out to play tonight,” Drayer said of her team’s performance.
Drayer led all scorers with 24 points while teammate Sina King posted 20 to lead the Lady ‘Cats to their first appearance in the Elite 8 after falling in the Sweet 16 the past two years.
“It’s a great step for our program but I hope nobody is satisfied,” Close said of reaching the Elite 8 for the first time.
Following Drayer’s three-point play the Irish responded with one of their own from junior Blair Browning and after a free throw from the Wildcats’ Britany Brown pushed the score to that eight point margin again the teams traded points to go into the locker rooms with Waterford up 28-20.
Drayer opened the second half scoring with another bucket off an assist from Ashleigh Tornes to push the Waterford lead to 10 just 32 seconds into the half but once again it was cut down to eight after Griffin knocked down a two-pointer just 22 seconds later.
A basket from King pushed the Waterford lead to 12 at 36-24 with 4:48 left in the third but Griffin responded with four of her team high 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half, to close the gap back to eight with 2:36 showing on the clock.
The Wildcats were able to push their lead back up to 11 after two free throws and an old-fashioned three-point play from King off another assist from Tornes in the final minute of the third and led 41-31 after three quarters of play.
While they were shorter than the Irish the Wildcats were able to draw fouls in the paint resulting in 32 free throw attempts.
“We just really had to take it to them and head fake and go up strong,” Drayer said of playing the taller Irish.
Expanding their lead to 10 after the third quarter the Wildcats watched the Irish narrow it down to seven twice in the final 1:44 of the contest before seven
Waterford free throws sandwiched around a Lena Barrows trey pushed the lead to its final standing of 11.
The win moves the Wildcats into the regional championship Saturday at 7:30 p.m. where they’ll meet Africentric, the team that ousted them the last two years in the regional semifinal. Africentric ended South Webster’s undefeated season 75-66 Thursday.
“We have to play our best game. It’s going to take our best effort to beat Africentric,” Close said.