Prep girls basketball: ’Cats down Eagles

BELPRE – Waterford certainly didn’t play one of its better halves of the season in the first half of Thursday night’s game at Belpre.

The Lady Wildcats struggled to get anything going from the floor (9-for-31, 29 percent) in the first two quarters while the Golden Eagles had the stroke working (14-for-30, 46.6 percent.)

Waterford’s shots began falling though in the second half as it hit on 16-of-25 shots (64 percent), including 8-for-11 (72.7 percent) in the back and forth final period.

Tied up at 70-all with a minute remaining, the Lady ‘Cats scored the final six points of the game to escape with a 76-70 TVC-Hocking victory.

“We never really got rattled,” said Waterford head coach Jerry Close. “(Belpre) forced us to make plays. Fortunately we made plays when we had to.”

In a game that featured 13 lead changes, it was Waterford that took the final lead with just under a minute to go.

After Lexus Cunningham drilled a long 2-pointer to tie the game at 70-70, Dani Drayer came right down the court and immediately knocked down a mid-range jumper to put the Wildcats on top.

With Belpre looking to answer, Taylor Hilverding came up with a crucial steal with just 40 seconds left. Hilverding and Mariah Starkey each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.

“The kids, in the end, did what it took to get the win, but it was hard fought,” Close said.

The main reason for Waterford’s second half success was the emergence of Regan Porter, who scored all 20 of her points in the final two quarters, including 12 in the fourth period.

“I don’t think Regan touched the ball two or three times in the first half,” Close said. “(Belpre) didn’t really have a post player to guard her, so that was the thing in the second half that we needed to do.

“(Porter) did fight hard in the second half and I think that was one of the big keys in the game.”

While Porter’s 20 led the Wildcats, Katelyn Hughes topped everyone with 22 points, including four 3-pointers.

Overall, the Lady Eagles hit 10 3s in the game.

“We put this one in the loss column, but there is a lot to have learned from tonight,” said Belpre head coach Scott Miller.

“My goal is, we don’t want to have any letdown from now till the end of the season. It’s been a successful season so far, but we’ve got a tough road ahead.”

Belpre ended the first quarter on a 9-3 run to lead 19-12 going into the second period.

Hannah Dailey assisted Drayer on a 3 and then made a layup to bring Waterford within two. Later, Hughes drained a triple to put Belpre on top by five, but Drayer answered with a trey followed by a 3-point play from Hilverding to put the ‘Cats ahead 27-26.

After Starker hit a pair of foul shots, Hughes dialed in from beyond the arch on back-to-back possessions to give Belpre a 32-29 lead. Cheyenne Barker ended the first half with consecutive baskets, making the score 36-31 in Belpre’s favor at halftime.

While Waterford was cold from the floor in the first half, making 9-of-15 at the foul line kept it within striking distance at the break.

Midway through the third quarter, a Barker trey and a basket-and-one by Hughes put Waterford in an 8-point hole.

Hilverding and Porter made consecutive deuces before Jackie Cunningham made a nice feed to Hannah Lawrentz on a layup to make it 47-41.

Then a key 13-2 run by the Wildcats, led by five points from Drayer and four from Sam Farley, gave Waterford a 54-49 lead with 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the third. Jackie Cunningham and Barker each made buckets in the final 1:15 of the quarter to make it a one point game, setting up a thrilling final eight minutes.

After Hughes hit 2-of-2 from the foul line, Porter hit a 2-pointer to put Waterford back up by one, 56-55. Lexus Cunningham then dropped in a 3-ball before Drayer made a jump-shot to tie things up at 58-58.

Porter scored the next five points for the Wildcats, giving them a 63-60 lead, but Jackie Cunningham connected on a 3 from the right corner to again tie things up.

Following a Farley field goal, Sierra Barker splashed a trey to give Belpre its final lead of the night, 66-65, with 4:15 remaining.

Porter nailed a jumper from the top of the key then made another basket on the team’s next possession to give the ‘Cats a 69-66 advantage. After Sierra Barker hit a pair at the charity stripe, Porter made 1-of-2 at the line on the other end. Lexus Cunningham had a toe on the line on a long 2-point attempt that was good to tie it before Drayer responded with what turned out to be the game-winner.

Waterford improved to 11-6 overall and 10-1 in the TVC, while Belpre dropped to 15-3 overall and 9-3 in the conference.

Both teams are on the road for league matchups Saturday, as Waterford goes to Wahama while Belpre visits South Gallia.