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Close, Waterford back in state tournament; face McDonald today in semis

Photo courtesy of Patricia Miller The Waterford girls celebrate after defeating Peebles 63-47 in the Division IV regional finals Saturday at Southeastern High School in Chillicothe.

WATERFORD — The Waterford girls basketball team is back in the state tournament.

The Wildcats (20-6), after a brief two-year absence, have made their return to the Final Four. It’s the team’s fifth state berth in program history after making it four straight seasons from 2015 to 2018.

It’ll be different this time around, though. Instead of playing at Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the tournament will be held at Dayton’s UD Arena. Waterford is set to take on McDonald at 2 p.m. today in the semifinal.

“They’re just like everybody else we’ve played,” said Waterford head coach Jerry Close. “They’re bigger than us. We’ve got to rely on our defensive pressure and keep them in a hurry.”

McDonald is an experienced group with seven seniors on its roster. All five starters are four-year starters, and two of them are 1,000-point scorers in Molly Howard and Sophia Constantino.

“They have a lot of experience and a lot of playing time together,” Close said. “They’re going to be a real tough matchup.”

Tough matchups are something the Wildcats have become used. Waterford knocked off top-seeded Notre Dame in the district final, defeated girls hoops powerhouse Newark Catholic in the regional semi and then took down Peebles, led by 2,000-point scorer Jacey Justice, in the regional final. Doubt the Wildcats at your own risk.

“I’m happy with the way the kids have been playing,” Close said. “Hopefully we can continue that. We tell out kids, ‘Don’t leave anything on the floor. Make sure it’s you best effort, and if that’s not good enough, that’s OK.'”

The Blue Devils (19-2) are led by first-year head coach Tony Matisi. They defeated Shadyside 58-50 in the regional final. In that game Constantino led the way with 17 points, followed by 16 from Howards and 10 from Lucia Wolford.

“We have to take care of the ball and handle their pressure,” Close said. “They’re a real good defensive team and we’ve got to handle what they throw at us.”

Freshman Lakyn Jones is expected to return to Waterford’s starting lineup after missing the last two games with an injury. She’ll be joined in the lineup by Riley Schweikert, Alayna Jones, Mackenzie Suprano and Cara Taylor. Look for Lily Franchino, Kari Carney, Madi Hiener and Brianna Offenberger to contribute off the bench.

“The team chemistry has been great,” Close said. “We were without Lakyn for the two regional games. Lily stepped up, Alayna played bigger minutes, Bri played a bigger role, Kari and Madi stepped up. That’s how you win a tournament game.”

Taylor, a first team All-Southeast District selection, led Waterford with 21 points in the regional final. Schweikert (third team all-district) added 19 and Suprano (second team) netted 15.

Waterford will need contributions from everyone to advance to Saturday’s state championship game. Based on what they’ve done the whole tournament, there’s no reason to think they won’t get just that.

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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