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Sectional champs: Waterford comes away with 44-38 win over Miller

Photo by Mike Morrison Waterford’s Mackenzie Suprano (5) goes up for a shot as Miller’s Josie Crabtree (33) contests during a high school girls basketball sectional final Thursday at Wellston. Waterford won, 44-38.

WELLSTON — Cara Taylor and Mackenzie Suprano led the way in the first half while Riley Schweikert and Brier Offenberger keyed the second half as the Waterford Lady Wildcats claimed yet another Division IV sectional title Thursday night with a hard-fought 44-38 win over conference rival Miller at Wellston High School.

Taylor and Suprano combined for 17 points in the first half as Waterford pulled out to a five-point lead at the intermission while Schweikert and Offenberger combined for 21 points in the second half as the Wildcats out-pointed the Lady Falcons 14-8 in the final quarter to advance to district play next week.

The 2019-2020 campaign has been a struggle from the get-go for the white and green due to injuries and illness and Waterford head coach Jerry Close didn’t expect any less adversity in their playoff opener.

“We’ve been beat up and hurt all year and this game pretty much sums up our season,” said Close, who notched his 15th consecutive sectional championship as head coach. “We’ve had to fight for everything that we’ve got and it’s a tough group of kids. They are young but they are learning every game.”

Neither team played its best basketball at all in the opening quarter as they finished in a 4-4 tie with both teams committing five turnovers.

The Falcons opened up a five-point lead early in the second quarter on a pair of free throws by Emma Joseph and three-pointer by Ashley Spencer.

Waterford answered quickly when Suprano and Taylor knocked down back-to-back triples before the latter hit a runner on the baseline to give the ‘Cats a 12-9 lead. Taylor was making her first appearance in quite some time for the Wildcats after missing much of the season due to an injury and made her presence felt in the opening half by tossing in nine points.

Miller got a field goal by Alaina Boyden to cut the lead back to a point before Suprano connected on her second triple of the quarter and Taylor and freshman Kari Carney both scored buckets off of offensive rebounds to give the Wildcats a 19-11 lead with 1:14 to play in the half.

The Falcons managed to trim the lead to five at halftime before playing their best basketball of the night in the third period thanks to the white-hot perimeter shooting of Spencer.

After Waterford once again pulled out to an eight-point lead thanks to five early third quarter points by Schweikert, Spencer knocked down four 3-pointers in a matter of four minutes of play as Miller won the third quarter by a 16-11 margin to send the game into the final quarter tied at 30-30.

The two traded the lead back and forth on three different occasions in the final period before a Suprano bucket gave the Wildcats a 38-37 lead with less than two minutes to play. Schweikert came up with a huge bucket to push the lead to three and after Askya McFann made one-of-two freebies for the Falcons, Suprano and Schweikert each made a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the deal for the Lady ‘Cats.

“Riley has been battling a little bit of illness and you could tell at first she got a little tired in the first half,” said Close of his junior who finished with a double-double by scoring 15 and pulling down 11 rebounds. “She got her wind when she needed it. I’m really proud of all of these girls.”

Suprano also reached double-figures with 12 while Taylor and Offenberger finished with nine and six respectively.

Miller was led by Spencer with 18 while Josie Crabtree added seven points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

The Falcons season comes to a close with a 12-10 record while the (13-7) Wildcats have a rivalry game at Fort Frye on Monday before returning to tournament play next Saturday against Peebles at Jackson High School (12 p.m.)

“Hopefully we can continue to get healthier over this next week or so,” said Close. “Hopefully we can continue to survive and advance… that’s what it’s all about this time of year.”

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