JJHuddle HD: A look back (literally) at the 37th annual girls state tournament

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Hathaway Brown won its fourth straight D-II state title. (Photo by Nick Falzerano)

“Un” the word to describe the 37th Annual State Girls Basketball Championships at The Schottenstein Center Saturday…First-timer Arlington undaunted…Africentric’s Kiyanna Black unstoppable…Hathaway Brown unblemished…Twinsburg’s Malina Howard one uncanny post player…And undeniable coverage by JJHD. Watch and read how it all unfolded…


Video by Alex Sator

Tim’s Tournament Trail: Girls State Tournament Recap

By Tim Langevin

“Un” the word to describe the 37th Annual State Girls Basketball Championships at The Schottenstein Center Saturday…First-timer Arlington undaunted by perennial power Berlin Hiland…Africentric’s Kiyanna Black  unstoppable against Anna…Hathaway Brown unblemished in tournament play the past four years…Twinsburg’s Malina Howard one uncanny post player…It was undeniable coverage by JJHD. Watch and read how it all unfolded…
 
Championship Saturday was an up and down the court race to the finish with several thrills and spills and a few tumbles and stumbles, along the way. A shot clock would’ve been a mute point this dog day morning, afternoon, and evening. More than 100 shots were attempted in each of the four games, including 131 in the D-III overtime contest.
 
The intensity level was out of sight, out of control as the combatants spilled their guts. There were 180 turnovers, including 51 in the D-III final, and 188 personal fouls. There were more spills on the floor than a busy day at Kroger’s.
 
The post players crashed the boards and battled one another for precious floor space. Who will ever forget the matchup between Malina Howard and Alyssa Rice in the D-I semifinal game? Or the classic confrontation between Nia Marshall and Laina Snyder in the D-II title game?
 
And what about the backcourt wars? The guards badgered one another tooth and nail, constantly in each other’s grill. Who will ever forget the the Ashley Morrissette vs. Chelsea Welch interplay in the D-I championship game? Or the Kiyanna Black against Erica Huber and company in the D-III final?
 
Must not leave out the W/F position players. How about those Recker sisters, Alivia and Amelia? They wrecked Berlin Hiland’s bid for a fifth D-IV state title. Amelia closed out her brilliant career with 1,503 points and Alivia showed her versatility with 11 points in the championship contest, scoring from all over the floor.
 
How about Vanessa Smith? The small forward headed to Princeton, carried the HB Blazers on her back with 28 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and three steals in two games. The #127 ranked junior nationally (CGBR) converted 10-of-20 field goals. She is one smooth operator.
 
Four teams returned from last year’s Final Fours and two of them, Twinsburg and Hathaway Brown, defended their titles successfully. Anna, winners of 50 straight, wasn’t as fortunate. No team finished the 2011-2012 season undefeated as Anna, Reynoldsburg, and Smithville all stumbled on the big stage.
 
Kudos to the officiating crews for letting the girls settle the score on the floor, not at the foul line. Despite criticism, Hank Zaborniak (OHSAA Deputy Commissioner) allowed the girls to battle, “We want the players to decide the outcome, not the whistle.”
 
It’s no coincidence that the 16 head coaches arrived in Columbus with a 78% winning ledger. The creme does rise to the top. Four-year coaches Seth Newlove (Arlington) and Jack Billing (Anna) have won 89% and 88% of their games, respectively. Veteran coach of 21 years Dave Schlabach (Berlin Hiland) has won 456 games – an 86% mark.
 
Championship Saturday. Broken dreams. Championship rings. And unforgettable memories.
 
D-IV Final:  (27-1) Arlington 52,  (19-9) Berlin Hiland 37
 
Legend has it, Arlington is a haunted town. And the Red Devils (how ironic) have been haunting opponents all season long.
 
Winners of 25 straight, their only loss to D-III state semi-finalist Liberty Benton in December, Arlington downed four-time state champs Berlin Hiland 52-37 in its first trip to Columbus to capture their first girls state basketball title.
 
The Lady Red Devils led from start to finish and jumped out to a 13-4 first quarter lead. They did it with spacing and great passing. Arlington recorded 12 assists and Abby Solt directed the flow with four assists.
 
And in the process, Reckered Hiland’s season-long “Redemption Tour”. That’s funny. “Redemption Tour”? A team that has made 12 state appearances, eight the past 13 years. That’s kind of like having braille at a drive-thru ATM machine.
 
Alivia Recker paced the attack with 11 points and Amelia posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Both sisters plan to play college ball. Alivia is headed to Trine (IN) and Amelia to Huntington (IN).
 
Imagine the one-on-one driveway battles between these two laddies the past few years.
 
Amelia said, “We’ve been playing one-on-one, two-on-two in the driveway and park for years. This has been a great way to end it. Each year we perfected stuff, developed, and got more hungry. Last year’s loss in the regionals got us thinking state.”
 
Born and raised in Arlington, coach Seth Newlove sensed from the start of the season that this could be the year, “We put a system together four years ago which involved hard work, dedication, pressure defense, and ballhandling.”
 
Super sophomore sub Dani Heaster played the game of her life with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 from the line. She entered the contest averaging 3.5 ppg.
 
“I got the ball more this game,” Heaster said. “The defense was overplaying me and I was able to score on a lot of back-door cuts. It was fun.”
 
Another double-digit scorer, senior Joy Reamsnyder finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. She entered the game averaging 3.8 ppg.
 
First-year starter Reamsnyder said, “It feels great. I played JV my freshman season and my goal was to make varsity my sophomore year. I didn’t start last year, but I got to play…I knew this was my last game and I wanted to give it my all. We were all focused on the game.”
 
Newlove said, “Joy had a great game offensively, but it’s her defense of the point guard that we depend on. She can shut down guards and defend against the three.”
 
Just ask Hiland guard McKenzie Miller, who was 1-of-6 from three-point land. As a team, the Hawks were 3-of-22 from beyond the arc.
 
Headed to Ashland, Miller finished with a team-high nine points.
 
The Red Devils stretched its biggest lead of the game 30-10 with 5:10 left in the third quarter on an Alivia Recker layup from a nice feed by Solt. Hiland kept it interesting with a 7-0 run to cut the gap 30-17 in a two-minute span. McKenzie Miller drained two free throws, Regan Miller scored on a three-point-play, and Meagan Hall nailed a 15-footer.
 
Arlington shot an even 50% (17-of-34) from the field and 76.2% (16-of-21) from the foul line, while Berlin Hiland shot 26% from the floor, including 13.6% from three-point range.
 
Newlove concluded the press conference by humorously stating, “I drive through all these little towns and see state championship signs when I enter. Well, now I expect to see a 2012 state championship sign when people enter Arlington. They need to get on it. And I expect a firetruck escort this afternoon.”
 
When it comes to small-school basketball, nothing compares. This D-IV championship was the largest attended game with 5,080 spectators and 5,079 were from tiny, rural Arlington.
 
D-III Final:  (23-4) Columbus Africentric 70,  (27-1) Anna 66  (OT)
 
Perhaps, one of the best overtime thrillers in recent tournament history, defending state champion Anna trailed Africentric 57-51 with 44 seconds remaining in the game. But then the unthinkable happened to the Nubians. Juniors Natalie Billing and Erica Huber completed a pair of three-point-plays off inbound steals to force the extra period.
 
Africentric responded with a 13-9 scoring run in the overtime period to capture the hard-fought 70-66 win and its third state title in their nine-year school history.
 
The only coach Africentric has had, William McKinney had an interesting take on the dramatic conclusion, “It was a great situation. I told the girls to be thankful for another four minutes of basketball, enjoy the moment. We get to play some more.”
 
Senior point guard Kiyanna Black (Ohio U.) enjoyed her last game. She paced the Nubians with 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and two steals. She was sensational. Her 27 points were just three shy of the record for most points in a D-III championship game.
 
Loaded with confidence, Black said, “Just a regular day on the court. I grew up playing with the boys at Crown Park.”
 
McKinney exulted, “KB did it! She stepped up big time. She kept it going. We weathered the storms.”
 
Indeed, this game was one storm after the other with 13 lead changes and seven ties. Anna’s biggest lead was eight points with 7:44 left in the third period on a Natalie Billing layup. Africentric’s largest margin was 14-5 with 2:32 left in the first quarter on two Black foul shots.
 
The pace was wicked as both teams combined for 131 shot attempts. Anna was 23-of-66 (34.8%) and Africentric was 26-of-65 (40%) from the field. If that wasn’t enough chaos, both teams combined turned the ball over 51 times.
 
Anna coach Jack Billing said, “This was the best game in the state of Ohio in a long time. Neither team quit.”
 
Playing in spectacular fashion the final two games of her career, Ashley Frohne scored 22 points against Liberty-Benton in the semifinals and 21 points this game. She dominated the paint with scoop shots, hook shots, and stick-backs.
 
Frohne said, “They gave me the lane so I just took it. It was scary at first, but once I got into the flow of the game, everybody started to play better.”
 
But the writing was on the wall when the 6-1 senior committed her second foul with 5:52 left in the first quarter and then fouled out of the game with 2:21 left in regulation. Sophomore Rachel Noffsinger tried to hold her own the final six minutes of the game, but she was no match for experienced post player Marley Hill, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
 
Natalie Billing, the Shelby County League Player of the Year with over 1,000 career points, recorded a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
 
Huber, who sparked Anna’s semifinal win over Liberty-Benton with 10 points and three steals in the first quarter, finished this game with 13 points, four rebounds, and three steals.
 
What a week for Africentric sophomore guard Darianne Seward. She took the OGT Science Test Thursday morning, scored 13 points against Smithville that evening, took the OGT Social Studies Test Friday morning, and scored six points in the championship game.
 
The OHSAA and the Ohio Department of Education need to get on the same page. That’s ridiculous. OGT testing the week of the girls state championships.
 
This was the most strategic game Billing had to coach in a long time, especially the sub patterns due to foul trouble with Huber, Cayla Bensman, and Frohne and the multiple defensive schemes both coaches employed.

Coach Billing said, “This loss falls on my shoulders. I got caught up in the game and maybe I didn’t run some plays I should of. We tried a triangle and two and Blue Two on Black, but maybe I could of done something different. I will have to break down the game and see what happened.”
 
Nonetheless, Billing is 91-13 his first four seasons with four straight SCL titles, two state appearances, and the one championship last season. It may be the end of a streak, but not the end of an era. The Rockets have three starters returning and nine bench players. Not to mention several freshmen who finished the 8th grade season with a 16-3 record.
 
Billing credits assistant coach Doug Martin for the building of the program, “Coach Martin organizes the shootouts, takes care of the elementary leagues and junior high programs.”
 
William McKinney boasts a 188-43 mark in nine seasons with three state titles. The Central State grad attributes his success to two people: Pete Pullen and Satch Sullinger.
 
He said, “I have been surrounded by great basketball minds. I started coaching in Dayton and met Pullen and then I moved to Columbus where I met Sullinger.”
 
No doubt people will be talking about this game for years to come. It was the 15th overtime game in state final tournament history and the first since 2005. It was like watching the NBA on CBS.
 
This was the second largest attended game of the tournament with 4,191 fans.
 
D-II Final: (22-5) Hathaway Brown 53, (24-4) Millersburg West Holmes 41
 
Can you say Dynasty?
 
Might have to change the name from Jerome T. Schottenstein Center to HB Arena.
 
Hathaway Brown has been to six straight Final Fours. The Blazers won their fourth straight title and their 29th consecutive tournament game after defeating West Holmes 53-41 in the D-II championship.
 
“Every year is different and so is the ride,” HB coach Paul Barlow said. “It has been a humbling experience and I’ve received great support.
 
Barlow is an amazing 210-86 in 12 years at the private school in Shaker Heights.
 
This game featured another classic matchup between two promising post players. Blazer Nia Marshall battled with West Holmes’ Laina Snyder for rebounds and points all night long.
 
Marshall finished with nine points and 10 rebounds and Snyder ended with eight points and 10 rebounds.
 
West Holmes grabbed the early first quarter lead, 10-8. Marshall paced the Blazers with six points and Snyder countered with four points.
 
Marshall said, “It was fun. Snyder is a great player. It was a pounding matchup.”
 
The pounding continued in the second quarter as HB outscored West Holmes 16-2 with points in the paint to extend the lead, 28-19 at the break. Big Stephanie Poland scored four points, Marshall tallied three, and Stephanie Solano added six.
 
Hathaway Brown built the margin 41-29 after three periods with perimeter scoring. Kate Dolansky bombed a three and Vanessa Smith (Princeton) added 11 points.
 
Barlow said, “When their defense kept sagging that forced us to shoot from the perimeter.”
 
Smith finished the night with a game-high 19 points and grabbed nine boards.
 
She talked about the HB dynasty, “It keeps us motivated. We have some big shoes to fill. We want to keep the legacy going. I’m just thankful to be a part of it.” 
 
The Blazers converted 22-of-40 shots for a sizzling 55%.
 
Emily Molnar was the leading scorer for the Lady Knights with nine points. She was 4-of-8 from the field while the rest of the team shot a dismal 26.8%.
 
West Holmes coach Lisa Patterson said, “We didn’t shoot well today. That was the difference. I think their long wing span made it difficult to shoot.”
 
West Holmes boasts the longest winning streak in Ohio girls history with 108 straight wins from 1983-1987. Head coach Lisa Patterson (then Cline) played on that team four years.
 
Barlow won a girls state golf title in 2010. He no longer coaches golf so he can spend time golfing with his wife. She said, “He commented this morning that it’s too bad we have a game. It would be a nice day to play golf.”
 
That’s neat stuff.
 
D-I Final:  (25-3) Twinsburg 57,  (24-4) Kettering Fairmont 51
 
The state semifinal matchup between Reynoldsburg and Twinsburg was advertised as the biggest game of the year. The D-I championship rematch between Twinsburg and Fairmont was more important.
 
The Tigers handled Fairmont for the second straight year, winning 57-51 before a pitiful 3,404 spectators.
 
The rest of Ohio missed a dandy with the interplay of not one, but two awesome matchups.
 
In the post, it was Twinsburg’s Malina Howard (Maryland) against Fairmont’s Makayla Waterman. The 6-4 Howard displayed an array of post moves, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The McDonald’s All-American shot 6-of-10 from the field and recorded two blocks.
 
Howard said, “We are a mature team. We have smart people that know how to get it done…I thank Uncle Tom (AAU coach Tom Jenkins) for my development and exposure. We worked on my footwork, agility, and conditioning.”
 
Waterman didn’t begin playing her sophomore season until January and didn’t make the starting lineup until tournament time. She suffered an ACL injury this past July at a summer camp in Tennessee. Waterman finished with 11 points, four rebounds, and two blocks.
 
Howard said, “Both Waterman and Westbeld are spectacular together. They do great things.”
 
The backcourt matchup between Twinsburg’s Ashley Morrissette and Fairmont’s Chelsea Welch was literally a knock-down, drag-out war. Both players were in each other’s grill the entire game. Earlier in the contest, Chelsea stepped on Ashley’s head going after a loose ball. Then late in the game, Ashley and Chelsea got tangled up fighting for a rebound and Ashley slammed Chelsea to the ground.
 
Morrissette was ejected and Welch made 2-of-3 free throws to narrow the gap, 55-50 with :10 seconds left in the game.
 
Morrissette finished the game with 22 points and eight rebounds. Welch scored 19 points and hauled down six rebounds.
 
“It was a great matchup,” said Morrissette. “She is a great player, but when somebody plays dirty, I’m not going to just let it go.”
 
Twinsburg pounced early, jumping out to a 15-3 lead after the first quarter, but the Firebirds answered with a 27-19 run during the second and third quarters to cut the margin, 34-30. Kathryn Westbeld scored 13 of her 15 points in the second quarter to pave the way. She was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe.
 
For whatever reason, the 6-2 sophomore got few touches in the second half and made no shot attempts.
 
LaShawna Gatewood (Appalachian St.) recorded a double-double for the Tigers with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
 
She said, “It’s great to go out a winner. Not too many people get to do it.”
 
The 3W’s (Westbeld, Waterman & Welch) combined for 45 of Fairmont’s 51 points.
 
The other starters for Twinsburg, Leah Fechko and Nichole Mabry scored five and six points, respectively. Fechko also dished out six assists.
 
Coach Julie Solis said, “It’s a sad moment. This was my last opportunity to coach these seniors. They worked hard and our dedicated. I’m going to miss those pacts with Malina. She is a special kid and I hope she has a great career at Maryland.”
 
Solis is one of four coaches in the state to take two different schools to the State Final Four. She did it in 2006 with Solon and twice now with the Tigers. The other three coaches are Pam Davis (Barberton and Canton McKinley), Nann Stechshulte (Cincinnati Oak Hills and Minster), and Pat Diulus (Garfield trinity and Regina).
 
Twinsburg graduates six seniors and Fairmont has everybody returning.
 
* Special thanks to girls basketball guru Tom Jenkins for all the pertinent information.

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