Been one heckuva 4-year journey

One…two…three…four.

If it sounds like I’m getting ready to start a song, I’m not.

After Saturday night’s 47-42 regional final triumph against Fairfield Christian Academy, the Waterford High girls basketball team is headed back to the Schott and the Ohio state tournament. And four is the magical number of times consecutively the Jerry Close-coached green and white cage program has accomplished this feat.

Not many (if any?) student-athletes anywhere in the country like Wildcat senior starters Alli Kern, Megan Ball, Hayley Duff and Hannah Duff can boast that — four straight years to the main stage in Columbus. Seems to me like coach Close and his players could almost author and collaborate on a book on the four-year journey — and what a memorable trip it’s been.

I think it would be a best-seller — at least, in Washington County.

So what would the title be?

How ’bout “Close to my heart” or “The Wildcat way” or “Close only counts in four straight state appearances” or “Glory story.”

One of the chapters would have to be devoted to Waterford’s good-luck pet Betta fish in the seniors’ sophomore season when it won it all in a low-scoring final (29-27) on Ball’s drive in the paint in the final seconds. In their freshman and junior years, the ‘Cats were state runners-up and competitive right down to the final minute.

Give Close a lot of credit. In my book, he’s the best prep girls’ basketball coach in the United States of America.

Of course, it always helps to have the personnel, and Waterford has had so many great players during its four-year run to state.

In that first year, the first time Waterford ever advanced to a state Final 4 in any sport, there was only one senior on the squad — Taylor Hilverding. Her father Todd Hilverding is part of Close’s braintrust.

The following year, with seven returnees from the season before, the Wildcats claimed the hardware, thanks in part to Ball’s finish — and the good-luck “fish.”

What a state championship team that was with seniors Dani Drayer, Regan Porter, Erin Roush and Mariah Starkey providing the leadership on the court.

Last March, the ‘Cats did it again for the third time, but came up short in the title tilt to a very worthy Berlin Hiland cage team. Jillian McCutcheon was the lone senior on the green and white roster — and if she’d been available (season-ending knee injury earlier in the campaign) in the championship game, things might’ve gotten a little interesting. Her dad Kevin McCutcheon is also a member of Close’s staff.

That brings us to this year’s team — and what a great team it is, no matter what happens at state. All five of the starters — junior Rachael Adams, Hannah Duff, Hayley Duff, Ball and Kern — are Southeast all-district honorees.

Heck, it’s pretty much an all-star squad.

Of that fab five, Kern is a two-time District Player of the Year. Since she was a Waterford freshman, she’s started in every single game (114 starts going into state tournament play).

Not many hoop players anywhere can say that.

Again, 1…2…3…4, it would be a real page-turner.

Ron Johnston, rjohnston@mariettatimes.com

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