By Chris Slone
MCDERMOTT — A frustrating season finally came to a close for the eighth-seeded New Boston Tigers, who lost to No. 9 Whiteoak 49-40 in the Division IV Southeast Sectional Semifinal Monday night at Northwest High School.
New Boston finished the year at 5-16 while the Wildcats improved their record to 2-17.
Despite the loss, Kiersten McGraw showed her dominance once again for the Tigers. McGraw finished the contest with 20 points and 16 rebounds.
Earlier in the season, McGraw joined an exclusive group in New Boston athletics by eclipsing the 1,000-point mark.
“Tonight’s performance summarizes her career,” Tigers coach Jon Estep said. “For four years, she’s been our go-to girl. I’ve told her year in and year out, ‘we are going to ride you from the time we tip off until the the buzzer sounds,’ and tonight I told her she was going to come in, play well and give her team a chance to win tonight.”
McGraw kept New Boston in the game in the first half, scoring 13 of the Tigers’ 23 points before the intermission. Before the break, McGraw made six out of nine field goals, including a hoisted 3-point attempt as the end of the first quarter was approaching.
On the glass, McGraw secured eight boards in the first half, including one offensive putback.
“She showed up from the get go,” Estep said. “She got that first basket to go in and I think it kept the confidence alive in her. She did an outstanding job of keeping us in this ball game. For the first three quarters, she kept us ahead.”
Like McGraw, Eden Howard had a strong contest, finishing with 16 points, including four baskets from behind the arc. Howard hit two treys per half as she constantly found open looks throughout the game. Howard also finished the game with three rebounds.
“With a 16-point performance, (Howard) gave us that second option that we needed,” Estep said.
Besides McGraw and Howard, the Tigers struggled to shoot from the field. New Boston only hit 36 percent from the floor, including 21 percent from 3-point range.
The Tigers knocked down four treys, all by Howard, while attempting 19 3-point shots. McGraw and Howard hit 13 of the 15 made shots by New Boston.
Estep knew the game plan was going to be centered around McGraw, and to his squad’s credit, they moved the ball and found the open shooters, the shots just didn’t fall for New Boston.
“The second half, they did a really good job of keeping Kiersten from getting the ball inside,” Estep said. “I want them to shoot the open shot, they need to shoot with confidence. It’s something we have to get better at. Both of my wing girls are back next year. We are going to need them to become more consistent shooters, Eden and Erin, they’ve been bright spots for us this year and they’ve kept us in a lot of games. But tonight, we weren’t hitting like I had hoped but we aren’t going to hesitate to take those shots.”
Aside from the shooting woes, the Tigers’ biggest problem was on the glass. Despite winning the rebounding margin 36-33, New Boston gave up 15 offensive rebounds, which led to a plethora of second-chance opportunities for the Wildcats.
Estep knew his team would struggle on the glass, but he was hopeful the damage wouldn’t be so severe.
“That’s been our Achilles heel all year,” Estep said. “We’re undersized with our guards. We put a very short unit out there and our girls rely heavily on Kiersten on the glass that they forget to do their job and rebound as a unit. If you look at two areas of this game, rebounding and defensive pressure, they both hurt us late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. And obviously the rebounding in the first quarter kept them in it.”
Defensively, New Boston held Whitoak to 27 percent from the floor and 4-of-22, 18 percent, from behind the arc.
The Tigers zone was effective for most of the contest, keeping the Wildcats from penetrating the paint, which forced Whiteoak into several long jump shots from the perimeter.
“Our plan coming in was to make them beat us from the outside,” Estep said. “We didn’t want to let them get to the rim and we did a really good job for three quarters. Then the Wardlow girl hit two-threes and got a layup on three straight possessions, which sparked them to take the lead by six or seven points there in the fourth quarter.”
Despite the strong defense from the Tigers, Emma Wardlow led the Wildcats with 21 points while making two 3-point field goals and she also pulled down nine rebounds.
Both of Wardlow’s treys came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
“That was our focus and what we talked about the last few days,” Estep said. “We needed to know in the zone where she was, which side she was on. I thought we did a pretty good job the first half. And in the second half, we lost a little bit of focus of where she was at on the court. She stepped up and hit those shots, which I’m sure her coaches were anticipating her doing if they were going to win.”
Even though the season was clouded with frustrations for Estep, he believes the future looks bright.
“We have a good eighth grade group coming in,” Estep said. “But if you look at our girls coming back, we’ve got to get stronger. My two wing girls, Howard and Johnson, they’ve got to get stronger and get more confident with the ball in their hands. I think overall, just getting stronger as a team and becoming more confident players, and gaining a lot more game experience.”
However, even with a strong class on the horizon, priority number one is to replace McGraw who has led New Boston for the past four years.
Whether or not McGraw can be replaced is debatable but one thing for certain, Estep will have several sleeples nights trying to figure out a way to overcome the loss of his leading scorer, rebounder and his senior leader.
“I don’t know if we can ever replace her,” Estep said. “We have a couple post players here that can learn. Her sister is actually coming up as an eighth grader and will look to help fill that void. She’s been very successful at the junior high level. But I think the best thing we can do is become better shooters from outside. If we can get our percentages up to the upper 30s or 40, I think that will be a way to replace that. If you can replace her.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or on Twitter @crslone.
Whiteoak 6 15 10 18 — 49
New Boston 10 13 8 9 — 40
White Oak — Wardlow 7-5-21, Gorman 5-3-13, Campbell 3-0-7, B. Luman 2-1-5, Cummings 1-0-2, Jayd. Parr 0-1-1. Totals 18-9-49.
New Boston —McGraw 8-4-20, Howard 5-2-16, McGahan 1-0-2, Waugh 1-0-2. Totals 15-6-40.
3-point field goals — Whiteoak 4 (Wardlow 2, Gorman 1, Campbell 1); New Boston 4 (Howard 4).
Records — Whiteoak 2-17, New Boston 5-16