COLUMBUS – The exploits of Alter’s boys basketball program are well known across Ohio. Time for the state to take notice of the Knights’ girls program too.
Using suffocating defensive pressure and the scoring punch of the Christie sisters – Nicole and Ashley – Alter claimed its first girls basketball state title Monday with a convincing 60-46 win over Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown in the Division II final at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
The Knights forced 24 turnovers and scored 26 points off of them en route to the victory. The Christie sisters, Nicole (senior) and Ashley (sophomore) combined for 32 points. A 21-6 run to end the game iced the outcome.
Alter, which has 10 district titles and five regional final appearances, can now add a girls trophy to a case filled with boys laurels. Under the direction of Joe Petrocelli, Alter’s boys program has three state titles and over 800 wins. The Knights district title count verges on lunacy with 25-plus.
“It’s an accomplishment for our whole team. They can never forget us now,” Alter senior Courtney Chihil said. “We’ve always been close but this year we pulled it out. It was our turn.”
Said Alter co-coach Chris Hart: “It’s wonderful. What a great accomplishment for our program.”
Great defense was the overriding factor.
Alter slapped on the defensive pressure from the tip and opened up a 9-0 lead. The Knights led 16-10 after the first quarter as Hathaway Brown had eight turnovers in the first eight minutes.
In the second quarter four straight 3-pointers, one by Nicole and three by Ashley Christie gave the Knights a 28-14 lead with 5:52 left before the half. After that Alter’s defense worked to Hathaway Brown’s advantage.
Continuing to pressure, the Knights were whistled for 12 first half fouls. In the second quarter the Blazers translated the double-bonus into nine points at the line during a 13-2 run that closed the gap to 30-27 at halftime.
In the third quarter the teams traded blows with Hathaway Brown taking its first lead, 37-35 on an Alexis Dobbs 3-pointer with 2:25 to go. Alter regrouped to take the lead 39-37 heading into the fourth.
In the final eight minutes Hathaway Brown again fought back to take a 40-39 lead on a bucket by Mylan Woods with 7:16 to go. From that point on it was all Alter.
The Knights regained the lead on a basket by Ali Mygrants (41-40) and then got the snowball rolling with another 3-pointer from Nicole Christie. In the final seven minutes, Hathaway Brown scored six points, again faltering against Alter’s defense. The Knights scored 11 points off turnovers in the final frame.
“That’s up there (with most turnovers we’ve had in a game this year),” Hathaway Brown head coach Paul Barlow said. “We did not handle their pressure like we needed to. That was certainly a big factor. They played a great defensive ballgame.”
“I think it is one thing to see it and another to experience it,” said Hart of Alter’s pressure. “Honestly. To have it right up on top of you is a whole other story. Until you experience that first hand I think it’s different.”
Alter used it defense to bookend a memorable ride. Despite being outscored 27-23 in the second and third quarters, the Knights owned the first and fourth, outscoring the Blazers 37-19.
“It’s hard to prepare for (Alter’s defense) in practice,” Barlow said. “They are very long and athletic. They get their hands on a lot of balls and obscure the passing lane very well. They really pressure the ball and take the ball out of your playmakers’ hands. It’s very hard to simulate. That’s how they play and did great job of execution.”
Hathaway Brown’s playmaker – sophomore Dobbs – agreed.
“The overall team pressure was different,” said Dobbs who committed six turnovers. “I haven’t seen that in a while. I expected pressure, but not to this extent.”
Dobbs ended with 11 points and four assists, while fellow super sophomore Mylan Woods scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Woods, though, a first team All-Ohio performer, was hounded into seven turnovers. Senior Angela Groves registered a solid all-around game with eight points, seven rebounds and eight blocks.
Alter was led by Ashley Christie who netted 20 points, 12 higher than her season average. Nicole Christie and Mary Bruner each chipped in 12 points. Alter’s leading scorer Courtney Chihil and third leading scorer Megan Waterman combined for just nine points. The duo averaged 23 combined coming in.
“If you would have told me we were going to hold Waterman to seven and Chihil to two, I would have said I take it,” Barlow said. “I have to give credit. Ashley Christie hurt us. And their dribble penetration got them some easy looks at the basket. We blocked a lot of shots but we didn’t get a lot of the rebounds and they got some second chance opportunities which hurt us as well.”
Said Hart: “We’re a team and on any given night a number of our kids step up. That’s one of the things that makes us difficult to prepare for and guard. Courtney has been the one through the tournament who has been in the double figures, so you can assume that it’s going to be her, but we have other kids that can score and that showed tonight.”
Something else that was evident Monday is that Alter has another hoops program to contend with.
“Congratulations to our kids,” Hart said. “For it to all come together you have to get some luck and breaks. Our kids played hard and at a consistent level throughout the tournament and that is not easy to do. We had a great run.”
The possibility is pretty good that both Alter and Hathaway Brown could make Columbus again next year.
Both teams lose three seniors and the Knights have an undefeated reserve squad to fill from.
When questioned about a rematch, Hart laughed and said, “No comment.”
HURT NOT SO GOOD
Hathaway Brown earned a dubious honor Monday, becoming just the fourth school in history to lose back-to-back title games and their first since Cincinnati Mother of Mercy did so in 1989-90.
When asked if this year’s loss hurts more than last year’s tow Warsaw River View, Barlow was not candid.
“Yes. There is no way to sugarcoat that,” Barlow said. “There’s no shame in two straight runner-up finishes and I bet there are a bunch of teams who would love to be in our position and have those trophies. But I think it is doubly-painful this year because we felt we were in a really good place to take home a state title and we didn’t get it done today.”
Said Woods: “Any loss pushes us to play harder. We came into this game knowing we had a target on our back and it will probably be even bigger next year, but we’re going to push just as hard. Hopefully we’ll get it done next year.”
SPREAD THE WEALTH
Despite scoring just two points, Chihil was unapologetic. And she didn’t need to be. That’s the way Alter plays.
“I knew I wasn’t having a good offensive day so I just wanted to focus on my defense,” Chihil said. “(Co-coach) Kendal (Peck) told me that if I could shut down one of their players and help the team to victory it didn’t mater how many points I scored.”
She didn’t need to score points because Ashley Christie picked up the slack. Christie was open and took advantage of it.
“There’s always points in the game where you know you need a bucket and it’s just to whoever is open to take it,” Christie said.
Although Christie admitted that she’s “streaky” when it comes to 3-pointers, Hart was quick to defend her sophomore.
“She can shoot it,” the coach said.
Hathaway Brown agrees.
Although there was no official record for blocked shots in a championship game in the OHSAA program, Groves’ eight rejections has to be near the top of any list.
“We did have a height advantage so it made it easier to get to those blocked shots,” Groves said. “A lot of times I’m used to getting whistled for fouls, but you can kind of get a feel for the refs and whether or not they are going to call it really close. Today that wasn’t the case and I was able to get to some shots.”
Hathaway Brown used all its fuel in grabbing a one-point lead with seven minutes left. After that the Blazers idled to the finish line.
“I thought that in the fourth quarter once we were able to get a lead and a stop and then another basket and stop we were able to relax,” Hart said. “And they had to come get us and them trying to guard us man to man in half court was not to their advantage. When they did that we were able to get the ball to the basket.”
Said Barlow: “We didn’t have much left after they went on that run.”