By Chris Chaney
The journey upstate is a tumultuous one in girls’ high school basketball, yet two local teams reached the end of their sectional runs with a chance to advance into the district bracket.
Both New Richmond and Felicity-Franklin had won their opening two games, garnering them each a spot in their respective sectional finals.
Perhaps one of the best instances of growing as the year went on, the New Richmond Lady Lions transformed from a young and inexperienced team with a threat down low into a savvy guard-oriented team with a dominant big man in the middle.
“We really came together as a team and we got the ball to Josie (Buckingham) really well and in good position,” Lady Lions’ head coach Brad Hatfield said. “When we do that she scores it pretty easily. That’s why she has been scoring 20, 30, 35 (points) every game.”
As a six seed, New Richmond began their tournament run with a 50-35 drubbing of Wyoming on the shoulders of Buckingham’s 25-18-10 (points, rebounds, blocks). Buckingham’s triple-double was aided by freshman point guard Maren Hance’s 12 points and five rebounds. Hance’s emergence as a leader on the floor is something Hatfield attributes to the Lady Lions’ success.
In the second round, New Richmond faced a familiar foe in Bethel-Tate. The Southern Buckeye rivals had split their regular-season series, but the Lady Lions took it to the smaller Lady Tigers, 68-42 as Buckingham again came up big, equally the entire Bethel-Tate scoring output with 42 points of her own to go along with 23 rebounds and seven blocks.
Perhaps Buckingham’s dominance was too profound as New Richmond found themselves in a dogfight with the top-seeded Talawanda Lady Braves, in which the Braves assigned three and four defenders to Buckingham each time down the floor.
The Lady Braves insistence that Buckingham wouldn’t be the one to beat them neutralized the Lady Lions’ main offensive threat and stymied any good momentum New Richmond had coming into the game.
As the Lady Lions attempted to find a way to stay in the game and keep Buckingham involved, Talawanda opened an early lead that they wouldn’t relinquish, winning 66-32.
Building on one of their best years in recent memory, the Lady Cardinals of Felicity entered the sectional tournament having won seven of their last nine games and looking to shake things up as an undervalued five seed in the Division III Wilmington sectional.
Romping past their first-round opponent, No. 6 Waynesville, 58-44, the Lady Cardinals and head coach Kerry Stamper had their eyes set on turning some heads as they were the highest seed to win a first-round game in their sectional. From there on out, the Lady Cardinals would face teams with higher seeds and better records.
However, it was Felicity’s current form that was the true determining factor in their second-round game against fourth-seeded Ripley.
The Lady Blue Jays knew they were playing a hot team and wanted to cool them down quickly. Opening up a 12-point lead after the first quarter, the Lady Cards had their backs against the wall as their deficit stood firm heading into the half.
Led by the three-headed monster of Ashley Moore, Arica Stutz and Brittany Drake, the Lady Cards forged a second-half comeback, culminated by a 29-14 fourth quarter to dispatch of Ripley, 64-56.
Moore, Stutz and Drake all scored in double figures with Moore leading the way with 22 points. Stutz had 18 points, nine blocks and seven rebounds and Drake scored 12 points.
Like their SBC counterparts New Richmond, Felicity faced a top seed in their sectional final, albeit a familiar one: Georgetown.
“It was a big accomplishment for us (to make it to the sectional final),” Lady Cardinals’ head coach Kerry Stamper said. “We were all really excited. It’s been quite a while since the girls’ team has won one tournament game, so it was great to be in the sectional final.”
The Lady G-Men had swept the two teams’ regular season meetings, winning the two game by a combined 47 points.
The Lady Cardinals assured their opponents that Game Three wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Felicity took a 27-22 halftime lead that forced Georgetown’s hand.
“We played great defense in the first half,” Stamper said. “We were in a zone defense which made it harder on them and we were very aggressive on offense getting to the basket a lot. In the second half, we were fouling too much and they’re a very good free throw shooting team. Our shots weren’t falling for us at all and became a little frustrating.”
With the Lady G-Men getting points at the foul line and Felicity unable to get anything going offensively, Georgetown took control of the game outscoring the Lady Cards 28-13 in the second half to win 50-40.
The win was a step in the right direction for Felicity and despite losing two seniors to graduation, Stamper believes that the team will be able to compete next year.
“I think we have a great defensive team and we’re going to be really quick,” she said. “Losing Arica, we’ll lose the only height we have, so that’s something we need to fill, but we’re up for the challenge and again, I think it’ll be our defense that keeps us in the game.”