Prep girls basketball: Lady Cats top Panthers

JACKSON – The Waterford Lady Wildcats shook off a horrid first half shooting performance before recovering in the second half to defeat the Portsmouth Clay Lady Panthers 49-35 Saturday in district tournament play at Jackson High School.

The Lady Cats led 16-15 at intermission despite connecting on just 4-of-30 first half field goal attempts.

“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” said Wildcat head coach Jerry Close. “We were making the right moves and the ball just wasn’t falling for us.”

With leading scorer Brooke Drayer going scoreless in the first 16 minutes, and the Wildcats misfiring on all 10 of their three-point shot attempts, it would be defense that kept them in the game.

Waterford limited Clay to just 29 percent shooting (6-of-21) and forced 16 first- half turnovers including three opening-half steals by Taylor Hilverding.

“We just needed somebody to step up and make a play, and Taylor (Hilverding) did in the first half” said Close of his sophomore who also yanked down six first-half rebounds. “We were making the plays on defense, we just weren’t on the offensive end.”

It wouldn’t take the Cats long in the second half to get their sluggish offense untracked as a 9-0 run to start the third quarter quickly moved the lead to double digits at 25-15.

Hannah Dailey and Hilverding got things started with field goals and Brooke Drayer came up with her first bucket of the game after forcing a Portsmouth Clay turnover.

Freshman Dani Drayer then drilled the first triple of the game for the Cats on a nice assist from Dailey to complete the run.

Clay trimmed the lead to seven on a field goal by Madison Whitely and a long trey from Shannon Curley.

After the slow start Brooke Drayer finally got things dialed in, and dialed in in a big way as the senior standout scored nine points in the final two minutes of the third quarter to increase the Waterford lead to 38-26.

“I just wasn’t hitting anything at all in those first two quarters,” said Brooke Drayer, who has led the Wildcats to sectional championships in all four years of her high school career. “I finally figured out what I was doing wrong, and I started hitting some shots.”

Drayer kept right on hitting those shots in the final period as she opened the final eight minutes with a three-ball, and then after a Whitley bucket, scored once again to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 43-28.

Katie Redding single handily kept the Lady Panthers from getting blown out as the junior scored 13 points in the final quarter- and-a-half of action but it would not be enough to keep Clay from being eliminated.

Brooke Drayer led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points, while Chelsey Paxton added 10.

Regan Porter and Hilverding added seven points apiece to the Waterford attack, while Hilverding grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.

Redding was the only Lady Panther in double figures as she scored 15 points to go along with eight boards, while Curley and Whitley each added six points. Portsmouth Clay exits with a 15-8 record, while the Lady Wildcats (18-6) will move on to battle South Webster, which was victorious over Portsmouth Notre Dame earlier in the day, Sunday March 3 at the Convocation Center in Athens.

“The Convo is always a big deal for us,” said Brooke Drayer. “We always have a lot of fans come out and it’s just a nice atmosphere.”

Close felt fortunate to escape after the sluggish first half but was pleased with his girls’ ability to recover.

“The girls got a little discouraged early on but in the second half they came out and regrouped,” said Close, in his eighth year as WHS head coach. “That’s what it’s all about in tournaments, the best team doesn’t always win, and you have to go out and earn it, and they did that today.”