Waterford gets revenge on Peebles in regional
CHILLICOTHE — In each of the past two seasons, Waterford had been eliminated from tournament play by the Peebles Indians.
The Wildcats gained a huge measure of revenge on the biggest of stages Saturday night as they broke open a tie ball game at halftime and pulled away to a 63-47 win in the Division IV regional championship game at Southeastern High School.
Wildcat senior Riley Schweikert and juniors Cara Taylor and Mackenzie Suprano combined for 55 points as Waterford punched their ticket to the State Final Four for the first time in four years.
“I’ve never had a team improve as much from the beginning of the season to the end of the season as this group has and I’ve told them that a million times,” said Waterford head coach Jerry Close. “What a great, gutty effort by these kids.”
The win, which was the eighth consecutive one for the 2016 State Champions, mirrored the way the whole season has went for the Wildcats as they got off to a slow start before recovering and putting things all together in the second half of the game.
Peebles scored the first seven points of the game led by All-Ohio guard Jacey Justice as she followed a bucket by fellow senior Lilly Gray with a field goal and then a 3-pointer while Waterford was struggling to take care of the basketball.
The Wildcats turned the ball over five times in the first quarter alone and failed to get on the scoreboard until Suprano made a pair of free throws with 3:26 to play in the first.
Taylor followed with a 2-pointer for the ‘Cats before Justice drove to the basket for another field goal.
Suprano’s 3-pointer pulled Waterford to within one before Taylor’s runner gave the Wildcats their very first lead of the game at 11-10.
Justice made all 10 free throw attempts she took in the game including a pair to close out the first quarter and put her team back in front after eight minutes of play.
Suprano’s second triple of the opening half tied the game at 15-15 midway through the second quarter and after Taylor and Peeble’s sophomore Summer Bird traded buckets, Justice made four more freebies to give her team a four-point lead.
With the Wildcats still trailing by four in the closing minute of the half, Schweikert was whistled for her second foul.
Close and his staff made the decision to sit Schweikert for the closing minute of the half but before play was halted the Wildcat senior remained on the court long enough to come up with a couple of huge plays to help her team tie the score.
Schweikert canned a 3-pointer that pulled her team to within a point and after a missed Justice jumper she grabbed a huge rebound which eventually led to Taylor drawing a foul with only a few ticks remaining on the clock.
Taylor made one to send the game to intermission locked in a 24-24 tie.
“Riley (Schweikert) fought so hard tonight and she has the ability to step out and hit that 3 and in both of these games here she has done that,”said Close. “She has hit big shots for us and gotten big rebounds and she’s really come on for us in this tournament run.”
After surviving the early-game jitters, the Wildcats looked poised from the get-go to open the second half as Suprano quickly put them back in front with a 3-pointer.
Peebles got a 2-pointer by Gray but Taylor answered with another score for Waterford before Marisa Moore’s field goal brought the Indians back to within a point.
Schweikert drove strong to the basket to give the Wildcats a three-point lead and spark a run that would see the white and green out-point the Indians 14-2 for the rest of the third quarter to open up a 13-point lead heading to the final quarter of play.
Justice scored 15 points in the opening half but the Wildcat defense kept her off the scoreboard in the third quarter as they began to take control of the game.
“We got off to a slow start like we did the other day against Notre Dame but that second half the kids were just determined and executed a lot better,”said Close. “I’m proud of the way the kids responded and took the lead and built it up and then took every run they tried to make and fought it off.”
Waterford kept the pressure on early in the final period as Lily Franchino canned a short jumper and Suprano followed with a strong drive to the basket that resulted in a left-handed lay-up to increase the lead to 47-30.
The Indians managed to whittle the lead down to eight with three minutes to play but the Wildcats were gold in the final period at the charity stripe by making 14-of-16 attempts as they pulled away to the victory much to the delight of the 200-plus Waterford fans who were allowed to attend the game.
“That’s been a big key in this run is that we have been consistent at the free-throw line,”said Close, whose team made a solid 21-of-29 in the game.”
While Justice finished with 25 points to become the school’s all-time leading scorer while managing to also dish out a team-high five assists, the Indians season comes to a close with a spectacular 19-2 record.
Schweikert saved the biggest stage to have perhaps the best game of her four-year career as she completed a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“I knew coming into the game that I needed to be stronger than I have ever been and crash the boards hard,”said Schweikert, who was a freshman on the last Wildcat team to go to state. “We came for payback and to win it all and that is what we are hoping to do.”
Taylor led the way in scoring for the winners with 21 points while also playing a key role on defending Justice in the pivotal third period.
“We knew coming into the game that Jacey Justice is a great player and you are not going to stop a great player you have just got to slow her down,”said Taylor. “Coach (Close) said it was just like a new game zero to zero when we went into the locker room and we were able to shut her down.”
Suprano added 15 points, six rebounds and three steals to the cause for the Warriors who improved to 19-6 with the win.
“There’s always been that thought that if we could just push harder we could get there if we worked harder,”said Suprano. “Still we needed to come together as a team and now we have been able to do that.”
Franchino continued to thrive in her new role as a starter as she also played great defense while contributing a field goal while sophomore Kari Carney made all four of her free throw attempts when the game was on the line.
“Our bench has been a big advantage that we have had,”said Close. “Lakyn Jones got hurt a week ago so two or three girls have stepped up and this bench is a big reason we have won these games.”
Waterford will advance to take on McDonald in the Division IV State Final Four to be held this year at the University Of Dayton Arena on Thursday afternoon (2 p.m.) with more information to be released later today.