MINFORD — You’ll have to forgive the West Lady Senators for their lack of interest in sharing.
After all, and truth be told, when you win your first championship in almost anything, do you really want to share it with somebody else?
Deep down don’t think so —and the Lady Senators shared nary their first-ever Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball championship.
That’s because visiting West withstood three first-quarter ties and three lead changes in the opening five full minutes, then fended off the hard-charging Minford Lady Falcons late — and captured a 47-41 wrapup win on Monday evening in their SOC II and regular-season finale.
With the win, West claims its historic SOC II title in outright fashion —and goes 15-1 inside the conference, only a 55-49 loss at Waverly withstanding on Dec. 15.
In fact, of the Lady Senators’ 22 (21-1) tilts, that was their only defeat—as Monday marked an indeed early completion to their regular-season schedule, with their Division III sectional championship game on Saturday, Feb. 18 being their next contest.
For those into counting, that’s two-and-a-half weeks for West without a game — as the Lady Senators secured the Southeast District’s Division III second seed for the upcoming sectional tournament.
First things first, though, West never trailed against Minford on Monday for the final 29 minutes —leading by as much as 10 (42-32) with five minutes and 38 seconds remaining, before the Lady Falcons’ final five markers made interesting in the final 33 seconds.
It was tough sledding at times for the Lady Senators, in a physical encounter inside Minford’s Falcons’ Nest, but six three-pointers to the Lady Falcons’ three —along with West getting Minford into foul trouble and to the free-throw line —lent itself towards West’s win.
In addition, that was West’s ninth consecutive conference victory —which will carry over into the next SOC II campaign.
Exactly a week before the Waverly loss, the Lady Senators snapped Wheelersburg’s 62-game league winning streak.
In the initial meeting against Minford six weeks ago, West outlasted the Lady Falcons in a rockfight at The Rock — and a 37-27 triumph.
“I’m just really excited for the kids. That’s who deserves it and puts all the work in. The girls wanted this (SOC II championship) and set this as a goal. They wanted to beat Wheelersburg, then they wanted an outright title tonight,” said West first-year head coach Larry Howell. “Minford came out and battled us tonight, they were ready to play. But I am just happy for these kids. They didn’t want to share it with anybody.”
Had the Lady Falcons won, it would have left West and Wheelersburg (13-2 SOC II) with two SOC II losses —as Minford travels to Wheelersburg on Thursday night for its regular-season and SOC II finale.
Minford fell to 14-7 with the loss, and 11-4 in the SOC II for an assured third-place.
The Lady Falcons, which sport no seniors compared to the Lady Senators’ experienced five, fought back from a 17-10 first-stop deficit —getting as close as 17-15 a minute into the second canto, combined with Marlee Pendleton’s elbow jumper which made it 21-20 three minutes later.
Minford trailed by two twice (26-24 and 28-26) in the first 2:45 of the third, but an Emma Sayre drive for an old-fashioned three-point play made it 31-26 just 57 seconds later —part of an 11-6 West run to end the third quarter.
Maelynn Howell had the next three Lady Senator points for a 42-32 advantage, although a 9-3 Lady Falcon spurt got them as close as 45-41 —with Lexi Conkel connecting on a corner-pocket three-pointer with 4.4 seconds left.
But the five-foot and 11-inch senior standout Howell, who meshed 3-of-4 fourth-quarter free throws and spent most of Monday defending and banging bodies with the Lady Falcons’ two bigs, iced the win at the line —converting both of the one-and-one bonus with 2.3 tics to go.
West’s balanced scoring, and experience in clutch situations, played to the Lady Senators’ strengths down the stretch.
As part of 15-of-21 team free throws, Howell had 4-of-5 as part of a team-high 14 points —while the 5-2 junior point guard Sayre sank 6-of-9 towards 10 counters, and her backcourt mate Charlie Jo Howard hit 5-of-6.
Howell had the only Lady Senator fourth-quarter field goal, as West was 6-of-9 at the charity stripe in the frame.
She also grabbed seven rebounds, including multiple on the defensive end —where West made late-game stops by forcing Falcon turnovers and/or missed shots.
The by-product was West trips to the foul line, and two Lady Falcons —Lexi Pendleton and Maggie Risner —fouling out.
Ava Cronin finished with four fouls for Minford, followed by Conkel with three and Marlee Pendleton with two.
“Our culture is built on defense. That’s what we talk about. We have really good fundamentally sound offensive players, so we feel if we stay locked in defensively, with the athletes we have, we can make it a long night for other teams,” said Coach Howell. “Minford is a team that just bangs you around inside. Their bigs, (Lindsee) Williams and (Marlee) Pendleton, just use their bodies so well. Maelynn Howell just stepped up in the fourth quarter and had some big rebounds for us and started guarding. We forced some turnovers there, and Emma (Sayre) is a just a little pit bull that gets after it. We put her on the other team’s best guard, and Lexi (Deaver) and Charlie Jo (Howard) just do a good job defensively too. They sit down and guard, and we work on it every day. Guarding, being in the right position helping, and then finishing the defensive possession.”
Minford’s first-year head coach Chuck Miller mentioned, once again, the fine details which have separated his sophomore-centric Lady Falcons from the experienced — and senior-laden — groups of West and Wheelersburg.
The Lady Falcons’ foul trouble played perhaps the largest role.
“Our biggest problem tonight was we were in foul trouble from the start. We’re only seven deep, and the two which usually come off the bench are spot players, but they had to play some serious minutes,” said Miller. “We fought back, and our post play was really good, but the thing about West is that they make you work so hard. They totally took our guards out the game because of their ability on the defensive end. Our girls are sophomores, but they still make sophomore mistakes. You saw the difference tonight between a senior-led team that has been through the battles against a young and up-and-coming team that at times we shot ourselves in the foot and made just enough mistakes to cost us.”
The Lady Falcons may have proverbially shot themselves in their feet, but the Lady Senators shot the ball well from beyond the three-point arc.
They dropped in five for the first nine minutes and 10 seconds —two from Lexi Deaver, two from Elisha Andre, and one from Kate Rollins to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
Deaver dialed up another in the third period, making it 35-28 at that point.
“The five threes, we have good shooters. If we can hit some shots early, we can space the floor,” said Coach Howell. “If we can hit shots like that all the time, we can be a hard team to beat. Our balance on offense, anybody can lead us in scoring on any given night.”
The Lady Falcons’ 1-2 post punch of the 5-8 Pendleton and 6-3 Williams combined for 26 of their 41 points —with Pendleton posting a game-high 15 on five field goals and 5-of-10 free throws, and Williams adding 11 on four field goals and 3-of-5 foul shots.
Conkel connected for triples in quarters two and four, Cronin had a first-quarter trey and a third-quarter deuce, and Baylee Hammonds in the third and Risner in the fourth had second-half buckets apiece.
Minford made only half of its 16 free throws —perhaps the sophomore symbolism of almost achieving its desired game goals.
“These games, we’ve been right there. But we just have to get over that hump. I told them that once we beat a really good team, watch out. We’ll kick the door down,” said Miller. “We haven’t done that just yet, but the future is pretty bright.”
But as for the present, it’s the West side’s time —so please forgive these Lady Senators for deciding not to share.
“This is a good group of girls that we’re blessed with. They are athletic, they are smart, they prepare and work hard. They do things right and are real big in the community,” said Coach Howell. “So very happy for them. The first one in school history is pretty special.”
* * *
West 17 9 13 8—47
Minford 10 12 10 9— 41
WEST 47 (21-1, 15-1 SOC II)
Maelynn Howell 5 4-5 14, Sydney McDermott 0 0-0 0, Emma Sayre 2 6-9 10, Lexi Deaver 3 0-1 9, Charlie Jo Howard 0 5-6 5, Kate Rollins 1 0-0 3, Elisha Andre 2 0-0 6; TOTALS 13 15-21 47; Three-point field goals: 6 (Lexi Deaver 3, Elisha Andre 2, Kate Rollins 1)
MINFORD 41 (14-7, 11-4 SOC II)
Lexi Pendleton 0 0-1 0, Maggie Risner 1 0-0 2, Ava Cronin 2 0-0 5, Baylee Hammonds 1 0-0 2, Lexi Conkel 2 0-0 6, Lindsee Williams 4 3-5 11, Marlee Pendleton 5 5-10 15; TOTALS 15 8-16 41; Three-point field goals: 3 (Lexi Conkel 2, Ava Cronin 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved