WEST JEFFERSON—Miami East made the big plays when it really mattered and won the D-III Twin Valley South lower bracket sectional final 44-37 over Anna on Saturday afternoon. The winners advance to next week’s district final against Cincinnati Christian Academy at Vandalia-Butler High School-TBA.
“We had to get the ball inside to (center) Ashley (Rice) and let her kick the ball out to open shooters,” Viking head basketball coach Chad Widener said. “We didn’t do that very well in the first half and we weren’t able to get the good looks we’d like to get when we are shooting.
“Getting the ball into the post loosened things up for us in the second half and Katie (Denlinger) was able to hit some open threes. Getting some steals out of the press helped loosen things up, too. I thought that we were the more aggressive team at the end and that was probably the difference.”
Miami East (22-1, 12-0 CCC) remains the Ohio’s number two ranked D-III team until someone is bad enough to move them out of the way. They extend their winning streak to five.
The Rockets (15-6, 9-3 Shelby County League) have little left to do but turn in their uniforms. On the bright side, they had a fine season. Anna only loses one player (Kelli Barhorst) to graduation this spring and next year could be THE year.
Meanwhile, you could have had the teams switch uniforms at halftime and most of the crowd wouldn’t have known the difference. These squads were similar in every way–they even looked alike–and the score after three quarters was 27-27.
The Vikings played a straight man-to-man defense the whole game, sometimes extending their defense baseline to baseline with a 1-3-1 run-and-jump zone press. That pressure package was very useful in the fourth quarter.
Anna mixed a 2-3 matchup zone with a tight man-to-man defense, and for awhile they had the Cross County Conference champions confused and on the ropes. When the Rockets pressed they did it using a diamond-and-one zone, and occasionally, that pressure was effective.
Saturday’s headline: ‘Miami-East’s veteran guards save the day.’
At 6:51 of the fourth period, CCC Player-of-the-year Katie Mengos scored in transition to make the score 29-27. Who could have known that this basket would put the Vikings into the lead for the final time?
Widener moved (Ashley) Rice into the high post and Denlinger came free off a screen to hit a three to make the score 32-28. Denlinger (17 points) hit four three-pointers in the game.
At 4:19, Mengos rebounded a missed free throw by Gina Barhorst and pushed the ball up the floor on a three-on-one fast break. She passed to Denlinger on her right who finished in the lane to extend the Viking lead to six. Two minutes later, Mengos stole the ball and drove the length of the floor to make the score 39-30 and effectively end the game.
Kelli Barhorst led the Rockets in scoring with 15. Carrie Watkins and Gina Barhorst scored 9 points each. Rebecca Burch rounded out Anna’s scoring with 3 points.
Denlinger led all scorers with 17 points. Lettie Hageman (8), Mengos (7) Rice (4), and Rebecca Leffel (3) also scored for the 22-1 Vikings.
An Alternative Lowdown From Press Row: Miami-East was vulnerable in this game largely because they were only 4-for-16 (25%) from the free throw line. The normally opportunistic Rockets were only 12-for-21 (57%) themselves and when you consider the final score those nine points would have come in handy for sure.
Worse, because they had only committed 3 team fouls going into the game’s final moments, the Rockets were unable to put the Vikings in the bonus and force them to make free throws. Consequently, this contest ended long before its time.
“I thought Ashley Rice did a tremendous job on (Kelli) Barhorst inside,” Widener said. “Katie Denlinger hit some big shots but Ashley might have been the key player in the game on defense and on the boards.
“Our intensity (on the boards) allowed us to slowly build up a lead. It was a key for us, but there were others. Mengos is one of the finest point guards around. She made the key plays when we needed them today—and we needed them. She averages around 11 points, 6 rebounds 5 steals and 5 assists a game for us this season. She’s a big deal for us.”
It’s never easy to end a season with some of your key team goals unmet but Anna head coach Jeff Reese knows things could have been worse.
“It was a tough way to lose but I’d rather lose that way than to get beat by forty,” he said. “We knew coming into this that it was going to be a battle. Those are the fun games for coaches and players. I told the kids to have fun with it.
“I told them that regardless of how it turned out that it was a great game and that they were likely to remember it for the rest of their lives.”