Prep girls basketball: Wildcats come up short
PICKERINGTON – The Newark Catholic Lady Green Wave jumped out to a huge first-half lead before being forced to hold off a fierce comeback as they went on to defeat the Waterford Lady Wildcats 52-50 in a regional semifinal game at Pickerington North High Thursday night.
The Green Wave led by as many as 15 points in the opening half before the Wildcats clawed their way all the way back to actually take the lead in the third quarter.
“When you get into a big game like this, you just can’t dig yourself a hole like that,” said Wildcat head coach Jerry Close. “But what an effort our girls made in the second half to come back.”
Catholic came out clicking on all cylinders from the start as the Lady Wave connected on eight of their first 10 shots to claim an 18-6 lead at the end of one quarter of play.
Senior guard Caroline Wollenburg hit on all five of her first-period shots to lead the way for Newark Catholic.
Regan Porter opened the second quarter for the Warriors with three freebies before the Green Wave went on an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 26-11.
The Lady Cats got a huge boost off the bench from junior Randee Seevers, who drilled a triple to close the lead to 26-14, but point guard Kelly Clapper answered for Newark Catholic with a three ball of her own to once again make it a 15-point lead.
The next three minutes proved to be crucial in the Lady Cats attempt to get back into the game as another trey by Seevers sparked a 9-1 half ending run that sent the green and white to intermission trailing by just seven at 30-23.
Freshman Dani Drayer, who scored the last four points of the first half, got the second half started in a positive way with a field goal on a nice assist from Taylor Hilverding to cut the lead to 30-25.
Clapper’s short jumper increased the lead back to seven, but baskets by Chelsey Paxton and Hannah Dailey, both coming on assists from senior Brooke Drayer, closed the lead to three.
The Wildcats forced seven Catholic turnovers in both the second and third quarters and Brooke Drayer scored a transition bucket to trim the lead to a single point at 32-31.
With just over four minutes to play, Clapper connected on a pair of free-throws before Dani Drayer’s three-ball was gold to tie things up at 34-34.
The Cats took their first lead since the opening score of the game when Porter scored another inside field goal and when Paxton grabbed a rebound and put it back in, the Wildcats had a 38-34 lead with under three minutes to play in the third.
In a matter of about nine minutes the Wildcats managed to outscore Newark Catholic by a 24-5 margin.
“I have got a gutty group of kids and I can’t be upset with their effort,” said Close of his girls rally. “They fought very hard to get back in the game.”
Catholic got a huge three-pointer from Ashleigh Parkinson to trim the lead to one and after Brooke Drayer’s steal and ensuing bucket, NC closed out the third quarter with four points from Wollenburg to recapture the lead by a single point heading to the final period.
The Lady Wave connected on 19-of-27 free throw attempts in the game, while Waterford managed to make 7-of-12 attempts, a statistic that would haunt the Cats in the final period.
Jill Blacksten, who was nine-for-11 from the charity stripe in the game hit four consecutive free- throws in the final quarter, the latter giving NC a 46-44 lead with just under two minutes to play in the game.
After the Wildcats missed on an attempt to tie the game on their next possession, Wollenburg found a wide open Caitlin Andrews for an easy layup and a four-point lead with a little over a minute to go.
A pair of freebies by Andrews increased the lead to six with 39 seconds to play but the Wildcats had one last run left.
Brooke Drayer hit Paxton for a quick score and after a rare miss at the free-throw line by Wollenburg, Porter’s rebound and scored closed the lead to 50-48 with 12 ticks left on the clock.
Waterford was forced to foul immediately and this time Wollenburg made good on both attempts to make it a two possession game and ultimately send her team to the regional final on Saturday.
A last second basket by Paxton proved to be too little, too late for Waterford as its dramatic comeback attempt fell by the wayside.
“We had some opportunities and missed some bunnies and some free throws,” Close said. “We put forth a great effort, we just came up a little bit short.”
Wollenburg led all scorers with 18 points, while Blacksten added 15 for Newark Catholic.
The undersized Wildcats out rebounded Catholic by a 26-18 margin as Porter snared a game-high 11 boards.
Dani Drayer led a balanced scoring attack for Waterford with 11 points, while sister Brooke added 10, and Porter and Paxton chipped in with nine and eight markers, respectively.
Newark Catholic (24-2) will now move on to battle Reedsville Eastern Saturday in the regional championship game, while the Wildcat season comes to a heart breaking end with a 19-7 record.
The loss brought to a close the very successful careers of the three seniors on the Waterford roster, Brooke Drayer, Paxton, and Hannah Offenberger.
“You always hate this time of year for your seniors,” said Close. “But what a great group of girls that accomplished a whole lot these past four years.”