By Garth Shanklin
For the second straight season, Walnut Hills High School played host to a Southern Buckeye Conference clash with a sectional title on the line.
Last year, Goshen defeated Batavia for the title, and while the Lady Warriors returned to the title game this season, their opponent was another Clermont County school: Bethel-Tate.
Bethel-Tate grounds Norwood
In order to set up the sectional bout between the two schools, they both had to first win their sectional semifinal matchups.
Bethel-Tate drew a former league member in Norwood, who defeated New Richmond in the sectional opener on Feb. 17. The Lady Tigers, like they have done so many times this season, blew open a close game early to take a 49-30 win.
Bethel-Tate led 13-8 early, but Norwood was able to cut the margin to three points with 5:42 left in the half. That’s when the Lady Tigers went on another run, this time pulling away for a 25-15 lead at halftime.
Norwood would get no closer than 12 points for the rest of the game, scoring seven points in the third quarter and eight in the fourth. Bethel-Tate totaled 24 points in the second half.
Lady Tigers’ head coach Dave Fallis credited Taylor Bee for getting the Tigers’ going early on defense, which helped start the team’s offensive attack.
“Tonight, we went down 6-0 and we ended up subbing Taylor Bee into the game,” Fallis said. “She’s been a growing spark for us off the bench. She did a great job getting us extra possessions, getting deflections, getting steals and really mixing it up. Once we got her in, I think we went on a 10 or 12-0 run.”
The Lady Tigers also switched up things defensive scheme-wise, switching from man defense to a zone.
“We had an active zone,” Fallis said. “Our man defense wasn’t working very well, so we went into the zone and that looked very good. We had kids that were running the floor. We had kids that, when we’d get a steal or deflection, they’d run the floor and try to get an easy transition basket. We played as a team, and we got the outcome we’d been practicing for.”
The interior of that zone caused Norwood fits, with Madison Burton providing an imposing presence inside and constantly altering Norwood shots.
“She did a great job,” Fallis said. “She came on early in the first quarter, and without her we would have struggled tonight. She was getting her hands on offensive rebounds, she blocked a lot of shots and affected a lot of shots as well. She’s just a sophomore, she’s still learning. She’s come so far so quick and sometimes we put too much pressure on her. She’s a great kid, she’s been a key for us all year.”
Reagan Leonard led the Lady Tigers with 16 points. Allison Parks scored 15, with Grace White adding six. Alli Stolz and Sarah Gardner each added five.
Goshen upsets McNicholas
Shortly after the Lady Tigers’ victory, the defending sectional tournament champions hit the court against third-seeded McNicholas.
Goshen trailed 13-8 after one period, but the final basket of that stanza sparked an important run for the Lady Warriors. Goshen’s Paige Garr had scored just three points in the first 7:26 of the game, but her basket with 34 seconds left in the first quarter cut the Lady Rocket lead to five.
More importantly, that basket was the first of several Garr would score in the final 8:34 of the period, totaling 11 points and pulling her team to a 21-19 halftime lead.
Goshen head coach Mark Short said the Lady Warriors made it a point to get Garr better shots, and credited one of his assistants for doing just that.
“We struggled early, but we got her some better looks,” Short said. “Coach Turner did a great job with his offensive calls trying to get her in a better situation. Other kids stepped up and hit some tough shots.”
The third quarter was a defensive masterpiece for both teams, or an offensive abomination, depending on which you prefer. Both teams scored just five points each, setting up a fourth quarter that would determine the second half of the sectional championship game.
After a McNick rally tied the game at 29, Goshen’s Whitney Turner took over, hitting a three-pointer and adding another basket to put her team on top by five with 2:01 remaining.
“She hit the three, which was huge,” Short said. “Then we ran a play I’ve ran for 30 years, the backdoor lob, which she caught and laid it in. That really put a hurt on them, they had to scramble to come back at that point.”
Turner and Garr combined to hit eight of eight free-throws in the final few minutes of the period to put the 42-34 win away for Goshen.
“They missed, and we hit,” Short said. “I always go back to my favorite player of all time, Larry Bird: ‘Free throws decide every game.’ They did tonight.”
Short said the Lady Warriors did a good job maintaining their composure in the second half, fighting off the Lady Rocket runs to keep the lead.
“Once we got the lead, we never relinquished it,” Short said. “We tied a couple times, but we never gave it up. That was a super job by the kids, I’m really happy for them. They really laid it on the line tonight.”
Short added that he believed the game was an important one for the Lady Warriors this season.
“I think it’s, in my mind, a signature win for our program,” Short said. “We’ve struggled against teams that we weren’t supposed to beat. To come in and beat that team tonight was huge.”
Garr finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Turner added seven points and five assists. Bri Vonderau only scored one point, but she collected eight rebounds. Kaitlin Pfau added six.
Rematch for the sectional title
The two teams returned to action on Monday, Feb. 26 with both squads looking to repeat as sectional champions.
Bethel-Tate entered the game on an eight-game winning streak in the sectional tournament, while Goshen looked for revenge from the SBAAC crossover game earlier this month.
Neither team got much going offensively in the first quarter, with Goshen emerging on top 7-4 after one period.
The Lady Warriors continued their stingy defensive ways all game long, keeping Bethel-Tate in single-digit points in all but one of the four quarters. The Lady Tigers trailed by six entering the fourth period, but Goshen pulled away yet again thanks to key free-throws by Garr en route to a 42-30 win and a sectional championship.
Garr and the Lady Warriors held Bethel-Tate’s Allison Parks to just six points, with teammate Reagan Leonard chipping in 16.
Garr scored 20 points for the second straight game, and added 12 rebounds to boot. Pfau scored seven points and had six rebounds, with Turner adding six points and five assists. Kayla Tuerck did not score in the game for Goshen, but she did pull in four rebounds for the Lady Warriors.
With the victory, the Lady Warriors will return to the district finals at Mason Middle School on Friday, March 2. The team advanced to this round of the tournament in 2017, falling to Alter in the district finals at Mason. This season, the squad’s opponent was unknown as of press time.
The Lady Warriors will face top-seeded Tippecanoe on March 2 at 5:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to the regional semifinals at Springfield High School on Tuesday, March 6 at 8 p.m.