LUCASVILLE — Having each other’s backs when times are tough is the best way to persevere as a team when said team faces a tough situation.
And over the course of the 2017-2018 season, the Northwest Mohawks’ girls basketball program did exactly that en route to proving to fans across the Southeast District that they are sleeping on a potential giant.
They could’ve given in after losing each of their first nine affairs — from a three-point overtime loss to two 51-point defeats and a 38-point loss over the first month of the year.
However, that’s not in the DNA of the Lady Mohawks, and boy, did it provide for a special second half for the Northwest faithful.
With seven of its 13 players serving as underclassmen, and at least four of those — three freshmen and a sophomore — all starting or getting serious minutes off of the bench, the Lady Mohawks proved that their latest results — with four wins coming in their last seven affairs and two of their three losses coming by just single-digits — were no fluke to those who doubted that success.
And it’s all because the members of the 2017-18 Northwest Mohawks’ girls basketball unit had each other’s backs from start to finish.
That was on complete display during yet another strong performance from Northwest, where the No. 12-seeded Lady Mohawks, trailing by as many as 11 points with 2:27 to play in the third quarter of action and by nine with 4:56 to play in the contest against the No. 5-seeded Chillicothe Huntington girls basketball program, made a spirited rally by picking each other up en route to closing within 49-45 with 1:59 to play as the game reached its climax.
But ultimately, the play of Braiden Collins, who obtained 22 points, eight rebounds and seven steals, was enough to offset the efforts of Valerie Eury’s 18 tallies as the Huntswomen ousted the Lady Mohawks, 52-47, in a Division III Sectional Semifinal on Monday evening in Lucasville.
While the result certainly wasn’t what Northwest head coach and athletic director Dave Frantz wanted for his girls, the effort, and the play that resulted from said effort, was the epitome of a team that has grown leaps and bounds over the course of the 2017-18 season.
“I can’t say enough about these girls,” Frantz said. “We still made our little mistakes like everybody else, but we never gave up. We weren’t playing like a young team anymore to end the year. We played like veterans. We still made a few young mistakes, but I feel like we left it on the court tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Over the initial pair of quarters, the main issue for Northwest was simply slowing down Collins’ quickness off of the dribble and Chillicothe Huntington’s ability to share the basketball off of the junior’s penetration. Behind eight first-quarter points from Eury, Northwest was able to play Chillicothe Huntington to a 14-12 margin.
However, that was quickly answered by the play of Collins, who — after already hitting a three to break a 6-6 tie earlier in the contest — collected back-to-back layups out in transition and back-to-back assists to Riley Black and Shyanne Conley as the Huntswomen’s 9-0 run put Chillicothe Huntington up 23-12 after a quarter of play.
Points for the Huntswomen, however, wouldn’t come as easy over the rest of the affair.
As the youngsters got comfortable in the tournament setting — and as Eury continued to play beyond her years — Northwest kept Chillicothe Huntington from gapping them in the second quarter as Eury’s 12 first-half points, along with five huge second-quarter tallies from Magen McClurg, allowed the Lady Mohawks to stay within striking distance as Northwest ultimately trailed by a 34-23 halftime margin.
“What can you say about Valerie Eury’s performance?” Frantz said. “That was not a freshman out there. She was hitting from the inside and the outside, she was playing good defense, she rebounded well, and she had some key assists during the run. It’s just a very unselfish group. I couldn’t be more proud to coach a better bunch of girls.”
Northwest’s second-quarter play ultimately set the Lady Mohawks up for a big run in the third quarter, as Eury, again, continued to play beyond her years, finding Keirah Potts twice on the right block for easy baskets — the second coming off of a jump pass — before scoring yet again on a corner jumper as Northwest cut Chillicothe Huntington’s double-digit lead all the way down to 34-29 with around five minutes to play in the third quarter of action.
When the Huntswomen increased that lead to 40-29 on a 6-0 run behind five points from Collins, the Lady Mohawks rallied again as McClurg — who nailed a runner in the lane — and Haidyn Wamsley provided a spark of energy with a 4-0 spurt to end the frame down just 42-33.
“It starts at home,” Frantz said. “I have a bunch of girls that have great parents, and I really can’t say enough because I’m just very fortunate to get to coach kids that come from hardworking families that have great attitudes. I attribute a lot of that to their parents. This is probably the greatest bunch of parents that I’ve been around in years as far as being supportive of their kids, having their kids there on time, and coming to the games and supporting them. They’re first-class.”
With Chillicothe Huntington up by a 47-37 tally with just over five minutes to play in the contest, Wamsley, who turned up the on-ball defensive heat in the second half, got one final Northwest rally started with a huge steal that brought the Lady Mohawks’ faithful to life. While Wamsley split the free throw opportunities, her play proved to be big as the freshman added a second steal less than a minute later, which resulted in a layup. Potts then canned an open jumper from the left baseline as Northwest marched right back into the fray.
“Haidyn Wamsley does more on the court than what is represented in the box score,” Frantz said. “A lot of times, you’ll look at points, this, or that, but she does a great job at the little things, such as handling the ball. To put a freshman at the point guard position on a varsity team, and see said freshman produce in the way Haidyn has, is rare. She gets a lot of points and rebounds, but she also gets more than her fair share of steals and assists, and just runs the offense. I ask a lot out of Val and Haidyn, and they give it.”
Down just 49-42 with 2:30 remaining, Eury drove down the left side of the lane and drew contact, ultimately earning another shot to add points at the charity stripe. When Eury missed the second of her two free throw attempts, Abby Baer fought inside, gained inside position on the right block, and put the roundball back up and in to bring Northwest within 49-45 with less than two minutes to go in the contest.
“Abby and Magen can leave tonight knowing that they played great in the last game of their career,” Frantz said of his seniors. “They left everything on the floor. I told the kids, ‘Sports, in general, represents life. It’s not bigger than life, but it’s a representation of life and how pressure situations are handled. How you handle everything will carry over in how you handle life.’”
Unfortunately, while Chillicothe Huntington couldn’t seem to seal the game at the free throw line, Northwest’s chances to draw closer were thwarted by turnovers as three misplays in the final 90 seconds allowed the Huntswomen to obtain just enough opportunities at the charity stripe to keep the game out of reach.
With the defeat, Northwest finished the 2017-18 season with an overall mark of 5-15 — but showed signs of a program that was anything but what its record indicated with the way that it was playing at the end of the year. Much of that credit goes to Baer and McClurg, who accepted Frantz’s orders to become the leaders of this unit last spring.
“I coached them a lot in track,” Frantz said. “We talked a lot last season when I decided to come back midseason and stay on, and they bought in. I challenged them last year during track season to be leaders. They accepted that challenge and they put it out there on the line. I told the girls that when they enter college next year, they’re going to be great. They’re not going to skip classes or ways to advance their studies because their work ethic is great. Next year, our goal is to be better as a team, and they’re still going to be a big part of it. I still would love to see them in the stands, and sit back and think that they had a big part of that in their minds, because they have. They have sort of helped raise these younger girls, and I couldn’t say enough about them.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT