COLUMBUS – This stat line won’t win a state title: 16 minutes, 15 turnovers and nine points. Columbus Mifflin found that out Thursday.
Despite being tied 26-26 with Kettering Alter two minutes into the third quarter of their Division II girls basketball state semifinal, the Punchers registered just five points the rest of the second half en route to a 45-31 loss at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Alter (24-3) advances to its first state championship game and will tackle Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown at 10:45 a.m. Saturday.
The Knights used their customary defense to stifle Mifflin (20-5) after the Punchers overcame a sluggish start to remain in contention.
Down 24-22 at halftime, Mifflin tied the game with 6:35 to go. After that it was all Alter. The Knights closed the contest on a 19-5 run.
“Our goal was to just pressure the guards and not let them get to the basket as easily as they wanted because they are good at penetrating,” Alter senior Meghan Waterman said. “(Mifflin’s frontcourt is) quick, fast and good ball-handlers so the goal was to keep them outside the paint and make sure they didn’t get to do whatever they wanted.”
Said Alter co-coach Chris Hart: “I thought we did a good job of that. We really tried to contain their dribble-drive.”
Early on Alter established the upper hand.
Before Mifflin scored its first basket with 4:56 left in the first quarter, the Punchers had four turnovers and two starters (Alisha Marshall and Patrica Mack) on the bench with two fouls each. Alter built a 10-2 lead and led 16-10 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter the Punchers took their only lead, 22-21, on a basket by Deasha Tally with 1:29 to go. Alter regained the edge with three free throws.
“We started off a little rusty and turned the ball over and they took advantage of it,” Mifflin head coach Troy Taylor said. “But we stayed with it and got back to within two at halftime. They made some adjustments at the half though. They started to jump and double the guards and push the ball. We just weren’t reacting and understanding it.”
“We were frustrated,” Mifflin senior Jalyssa Campbell said. “Their defense was good and we couldn’t get our passes through.”
Alter’s defense has been its staple all season and is a big reason the Knights have made seven straight district finals. Four times this season Alter has held teams scoreless in the first quarter. The Knights held Mifflin to six points in the third and three points in the fourth quarter, respectively.
The loss also snapped a 13-game win streak for the Punchers, who are the second Columbus City League school to fall to Alter this postseason. The Knights dominated Columbus Eastmoor 72-37 in the regional semifinals.
Offensively Alter’s Courtney Chihil led all scorers with 18 points, while Waterman chipped in 11. Mifflin, which had no scores in double-figures, was paced by Amber Arter’s eight points. Overall, the Punchers had 26 turnovers.
“Once we got back into creating some offense with our defense, I think that really affected them in the second half,” Hart said. “It made it difficult for them to get into anything they wanted to.”
Said Taylor: “We normally run against great defensive teams. I think this team was a little more composed, stayed with their gameplan and executed. They forced the issue.”
The game was a rematch of a 2002 D-II state semifinal which Mifflin won 58-50. The Punchers then lost the final to Cleveland East Tech. Taylor and Hart were the coaches then as well.
Alter has held its last 10 opponents to under 40 points. The last team to score 40 or more on Alter was Circleville, which beat the Knights 44-43 in January. Only two teams have scored 50 or more on Alter this season (Chaminade-Julienne and Roger Bacon).
Saturday, Alter is going to face a decisive height disadvantage when it takes on Hathaway Brown. The Blazers have five girls 6-foot-1 or taller. Alter has just one player who is 6-0, and that is Sandy Plunkett, a sophomore who didn’t log any minutes against Mifflin.
“We’re not going to win the boards, but we have to compete,” Alter co-coach Kendal Peck said. “Like today, it’s 24-22 (Mifflin’s) favor. We can win if we can do that. But if its 44-20 we have no shot. We’re not going to make 14 3s like Lima Bath.”
“I thought we still looked a little tentative at start of third quarter but we knocked down some shots and made the game a full court game again which is what we wanted to do. I think that settled us down.” – Hart
“Once we played our game – penetrate the zone, attack the gaps – it brought us back to our style of basketball. That helped.” – Waterman
“We’re going to get some (Final Four) rings. They just won’t say state champions.” – Taylor