Waterford cruises: Wildcats beat Southern, 68-34, in sectional final

POMEROY – Waterford’s defense was a machine Thursday night.

The Lady Wildcats forced 46 turnovers and held Southern to 9-of-34 (26.4 percent) from the floor en route to claiming a 68-34 sectional victory at Meigs High School.

For Waterford, it is the 11th straight Division IV sectional championship in as many years.

“You never take these for granted,” said Waterford coach Jerry Close. “We’ve been fortunate to have good kids and get good draws. We expect to win.”

Waterford’s defense tallied 33 steals in the game. In the first half, the Wildcats’ press defense held Southern to just two field goals and forced 28 turnovers as they jumped out to a 40-12 halftime lead.

“That is when we’re at our best,” Close said. “We did a nice job forcing the turnovers, but we’ve got to do a better job of capitalizing on the turnovers.”

Offensively, Dani Drayer went 9-of-12 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from the 3-point line, to lead Waterford with 26 points. Drayer also tallied a game-high seven steals and five assists. Regan Porter added 10 points while Mariah Starkey and Hannah Dailey each had nine.

Waterford shot 44.6 percent (25-for-56) in the game and held a 30-21 advantage on the boards.

For the Tornadoes, Celestia Hendrix scored 18 points and also notched 13 rebounds. Jordan Huddleston and Cierra Turley each chipped in with seven markers.

After a 3-pointer by Huddleston cut Waterford’s advantage to 6-5, the Wildcats went on a 13-0 run to blow the game open.

A layup by Hendrix briefly slowed Waterford’s momentum, but the ‘Cats came right back with six more unanswered points to go on top 25-7 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter Waterford’s D turned it up a notch, holding Southern to zero field goals and just five points on five Hendrix free throws. Meanwhile, Drayer and Starkey combined for 13 points in the quarter to give the green and white a 28-point lead at the break.

Midway through the third, Waterford built its lead to 30, 46-16, when Porter found Taylor Hilverding under the basket for a layup.

It was the third time this season Waterford defeated Southern by over 30 points.

Despite the large margin, Close said the overall performance needs to improve in next week’s district semifinal game against Peebles.

“We’re not gonna beat (Peebles) playing the way we did tonight,” said Close, whose Wildcats turned it over 27 times themselves.

Waterford’s next contest will be a regular season home tilt Saturday against Miller. The ‘Cats will then be at Trimble Monday to end the regular season before Thursday’s matchup versus Peebles at Jackson High.

Waterford improved to 14-7 on the year while Southern fell to 14-8.