Ohio High School Basketball: Miami East makes regional final despite loss of head coach


Miami East 53, Newark Catholic 45
The Miami East girls basketball team needs one more win to reach the state semifinals, but if the Vikings do it, it’ll be bittersweet. East advanced to the D-III regional final with a
53-45 win over Newark Catholic at Vandalia on Wednesday, but they did it without head coach Chad
Widener. The coach and junior high teacher was placed on paid leave
Tuesday as Miami County sheriff’s detectives investigate allegations
against him.

VANDALIA — The Miami East girls basketball team needs one more win to reach its first state semifinal appearance in nine seasons. But if the Vikings avenge their only loss to Versailles on Saturday, it’ll be bittersweet.

East advanced to the Division III regional final with a hard-fought 53-45 win over Newark Catholic at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center on Wednesday. But they did it without head coach Chad Widener.

The coach and junior high teacher was placed on paid leave Tuesday as Miami County sheriff’s detectives investigate allegations against him, according to Miami East superintendent Todd Rappold. The team was told Tuesday that Widener would not be coaching until the situation was resolved.

“It’s a testament to the group of girls we have,” varsity assistant and interim head coach Preston Elifritz said of the Vikings’ focus and determination. “Under the situation, I’m not going to comment on that and I respect you guys for understanding that, we got (the team) together early today and talked through a couple things. We made the simple comment that at some point a switch has got to go off and a basketball switch has got to come on. They responded very well.”

Miami East (24-1, ranked No. 4 in the state) never trailed. Newark Catholic (19-6) managed a pair of ties in the first five minutes but otherwise played catch-up. East led 29-18 at the half and benefited from having Newark playmaker Jordan Stacey on the bench with three fouls. Katie Denlinger’s 3-pointer early in the third quarter gave the Vikings their biggest lead, 32-18.

The Vikings had several chances to break the game open but couldn’t take advantage. Likewise, Newark Catholic had several chances to make momentum-switching runs but couldn’t string together enough baskets.

“We were’t able to run away with it, but it is a regional semifinal,” said Elifritz. “We talk all the time about being composed late.”

The Green Wave closed within 48-41 with 2:26 left in the game on Amy Clapper’s basket. The 6-foot-2 center came alive in the fourth with four of her team’s six baskets. The Green Wave, though, missed a chance to pull closer minutes earlier. Down 46-35 with 5:55 left, Newark Catholic missed five straight shots after hustling for rebounds. They went nearly two minutes without another score when Clapper’s free throws made it 47-37.

With Newark Catholic forced to foul, East hit seven of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold on. Sarah Skidmore had four of those as she scored all nine of her points in the fourth. She had a big 3-pointer early and added the Vikings’ final basket with 1:51 left in the game.

“She had a very good fourth quarter,” Elifritz said of Skidmore. “I looked at her on the bench and said you need to have a big fourth quarter.”

“I didn’t want to let the team down,” said Skidmore. “We’ve worked so hard for this. I felt it. It was like a surge of energy.”

Denlinger led East with 10 points. Rebecca Leffel joined Skidmore with nine in a very balanced East attack.

Clapper led the Green Wave with 13, with 10 of those in the fourth, and Stacey added 12.

“I don’t want to say it’s about time, but we really earned it,” Denlinger said of the Vikings’ first regional appearance since the 1998-99 season when they finished as state runner-up. “We’ve had some hard practices, some long practices. .. Even being a senior, I couldn’t ask for a better team. I wouldn’t trade being on an undefeated team for being on this team. These girls are some of my best friends. I would consider them my sisters.”

Miami East now gets a rematch with Versailles, a 44-30 winner over Hamilton Badin in the other semifinal. Versailles has won the last four meetings with East — two in the regular season and two in the past two sectional finals. The teams were ranked No. 1 (Versailles) and No. 2 (Miami East) when they met on Jan. 26. Versailles won that game 61-44 after leading by just three points with three minutes left.

“They do so many good things well and that’s why they are undefeated,” said Elifritz. “Obviously they have (Emily) Bohman and (Justine) Raterman, but they have role players that do little things to make them so successful.”

Elifritz, junior varsity coach Brian Kadel and assistant Scott Lanning will continue to coach the Vikings through the postseason. Widner has coached the girls since the 2001-02 season, going 113-47.

“It wasn’t a fact of me doing anything tonight. The girls took it upon themselves to play an awesome game,” Elifritz said. “We shared coaching duties the whole game. There wasn’t too many times I didn’t look over my shoulder and ask a question. We didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. I’m just a puppet calling out plays. Our girls got it done.”

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