Smithville, by virtue of its 53-46 victory over the Chipps, has clinched at least a tie for the Wayne County Athletic League championship. Barring any sort of strange collapse, they will end the season as outright champs.
First, though, was the matter of the Chipps, who beat the Smithies 40-37 in the first meeting.
“We knew we had to come out strong because of the last game we played against them,” said Smithville senior guard Beth Yoder, who finished with 13 points and reached the 1,000-career point plateau. “We knew we had to be intense. They’re very physical and we had to be that way too.”
Chippewa (11-4, 9-3) had a solid size advantage, with 5-foot-11 senior All-WCAL post player Chelsea Fazekas, 6-1 junior Katelyn Earnest and 5-10 sophomore Brandy Kelley. So the Smithies made sure they didn’t get the ball for the most part.
Fazekas did her share of damage, scoring a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. But Earnest and Kelly, who normally account for about 20 points per game, were held scoreless.
“I have to hand it to Smithville’s defense, they took us out of our offensive game,” Chipps coach Ken Pease said. “They did quite a few things that we weren’t ready for.”
The Smithies (15-1, 11-1), ranked 13th in the state in Division III and the top seed at the Wooster Triway District, played man defense, shifting extra defenders into the lane to help clog things up against Chippewa’s bigs.
The left it up to the Chipps’ perimeter players. Senior Kay Young was solid, scoring 17 points, but the rest of their guards scored just 10 points on 4-of-20 shooting. Most of that could be attributed to Smithville.
“We didn’t get any good looks, but we didn’t take any either,” Pease said. “We tried to force it inside. We’ve got some shooters, but we’ve got to shoot the ball. You can’t live by just packing it inside.”
Smithville jumped out to an early seven-point lead and had a 14-11 edge after one quarter. They again ran the margin to seven with 1:40 left in the first half, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Young and a lay-up by Amanda Holbert (7 points, 6 rebounds) gave Chippewa a 24-23 halftime lead.
That advantage might have been more if not for the work of Smithville sophomore Jenna Pew. The 5-11 post had nine of her game-high 14 rebounds before intermission.
“Jenna gets all our rebounds,” Smithville senior guard Sara Shoup said of Pew, who finished with a team-high 16 points and blocked several Chippewa shots. “She’s always in there trying to make something happen. She’s a big part of how we play. We usually can just fall in right behind her.”
The league championship hanging in the balance and Chippewa having the momentum, the Smithies came out energized in the third quarter.
“We knew if we won this we’d be up (in the standings) and just have to finish the season strong,” Shoup said. “By losing it, we would just be tied.”
Patient with the ball, the Smithies re-took the lead a minute into the third quarter on a bucket by Shoup. Three minutes later she hit a 3-pointer for the last of her eight points and the lead was four.
The Smithies stretched the margin to seven late in the third quarter, giving themselves a little breathing room.
“That was huge,” Yoder said of her team’s third-quarter performance. “We had to come out and just play hard and try and come back. We knew if they stuck around it would be a close game all the way to the finish. We came out hard with a lot of heart.”
In the teams’ first meeting the Chipps trailed by four at halftime and by seven in the third quarter only to rally and win. Again, lesson learned.
“The little cushion was nice,” Shoup said. “But we knew it wasn’t over.”
The Smithies gradually pulled away in the fourth quarter, mostly at the free throw line. They made just two fourth-quarter field goals, but got to the line by forcing the action. They wound up making 11 of 15 free throws in the final period.
None may have been bigger than Jayme Caldwell’s, which came at the end of a three-point play that gave Smithville a 46-37 lead with 3:27 left. The Smithies eventually extended the margin to 12.
The teams could meet again in a few weeks. Chippewa is the No. 3 seed at Triway and jumped into Smithville’s half of the bracket. The rubber match would be in the district semifinals.