Even though the Tigers led most of the way a late charge by North nearly catapulted it to the upset of the No. 3 seed. WLS is ranked No. 13 in the latest AP state poll.
“Tri-County North played really hard and we made some mistakes,” said West Liberty Salem coach Dennis McIntosh. “We committed some turnovers that we are not used to having. They have some good players and they hit some big shots for them.”
The difference in the game was defense. It seemed like every time West Liberty needed a stop they got one. On the other hand, Tri-County North did not.
The game started off well enough for the Tigers. Danielle King drained three consecutive threes, giving her team an 11-4 advantage and taking the Panthers out of their zone defense. King ended the night with a team high 12 points. As it turned out that might have been the best thing to happen for North as their man-to-man defense was very effective against the Tigers.
“Danielle hit those big threes and North came out of their zone a lot quicker than we expected. Every time we had seen them this year they played zone,” said McIntosh.
After one period of play it appeared as if West Liberty was on their way to a blowout win, leading 17-6. However, North would not go away that easy. Led by Rachael Heindl who finished with 12 points, the Panthers clawed their way back into the contest. The combination of balanced scoring and solid defense helped Tri-County outscore the Tigers 13-9 and make things interesting at the break.
But there was much more to come. After getting some new life Tri-County continued rolling along in the third stanza. North got within five points at 26-21 when Heindl scored to open the period.
However, West Liberty Salem answered with a basket and the game was on. North followed that with a 7-1 run and thoughts of the upset were creeping around the gym. When the period ended the Tigers were holding a 33-29 advantage, but North was right on their heels.
The difference in the fourth quarter was the Tigers’ defense. After letting North back in the game, the West Liberty defense went to work. For the first three minutes of the period the Tigers held the Panthers scoreless. In the meantime the West Liberty offense built a 39-29 advantage.
Shae Blake did most of the damage on both offense and defense. The guard ended the night with 10 points, but it was her defensive play, especially in the fourth period that was the difference in the game.
Despite being down 10 points, Tri-County North would not let their dreams of an upset disappear. The Panthers roared back behind the play of Heindl and Megan Thompson cutting the deficit to four at 39-34.
But again West Liberty Salem showed why they are the No. 3 seed. The Tigers responded with a couple of baskets and were up 43-36 with just over a minute to play. From there West Liberty used their defense to hold on for the 45-36 win.
The 19-2 Tigers advance to the Sectional Semi-Final where they face Dayton Christian on Saturday at noon. Tri-County North’s season comes to an end at 8-9.
“I thought overall everyone did a pretty good job out there,” McIntosh said. “Tri-County North scored a lot of their points off our turnovers, but we did good job of rebounding and in the post.”