LUCASVILLE — When Minford coach Shane Davis walked up to McKenzie Watters Monday evening, his message was simple.
Davis looked at Watters and said, “I need you to make a difference tonight.”
Watters simply said, “OK,” and proceeded to go out and lead the team in scoring off the bench.
That play, alongside a balanced effort from her teammates, allowed the Falcons (16-6) to hand Portsmouth a 50-36 loss in a Division III sectional semifinal at Valley High School.
“I said the same thing to her earlier this season at Oak Hill,” Davis said of Watters, smiling. “She’s just a great kid. She does whatever you ask her to do and she gets it. She doesn’t care how many minutes she gets. She just cares that her team wins. That’s what she tells me. Her effort has been great off the bench. When she went in tonight, she wasn’t coming back out.”
Watters wasn’t the only Falcon who made a significant difference in Monday’s victory. Hannah Tolle also fits that description. But making a difference is what Tolle’s been doing for quite some time now.
In the win, Tolle tallied nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. But most importantly, she made good decisions and took care of the basketball. When she’s playing well, so is Minford.
“She’s huge to our success. At the beginning of the year, her thing was confidence,” Davis said. “Now, I can tell the difference when she shoots the ball. You know whether it’s going in or not because you can see the look in her eye. I tell her that all the time. She sees the floor well and she throws it on a rope. She’s come so far along. She’s a difference maker.”
Tale of the tape
Minford got on the board first with 7:06 left in the first quarter when Ashley Blankenship scored. But the Trojans (7-13), who came ready to play, got back-to-back baskets from Ashanti Richardson and Jasmine Eley, taking a 4-2 lead at the 5:50 mark. The Falcons then went on an 8-0 run, going up 10-4, before Portsmouth’s Nia Trinidad hit a 3 to make it 10-7 after one.
In the second, Portsmouth continued to land punches. When Eley hit one of her four 3’s with 6:20 to go, the Trojans had a 12-11 lead. Hannah Hughes followed with a 3 of her own, making it 15-11 and giving her team its largest lead of the night.
“They came ready to play,” Davis said of Portsmouth. “We knew when we saw the draw that we had to get past this one first before looking at anybody else.”
Down 15-11, The Falcons ripped off a 12-0 run behind Tolle and Watters. Tolle hit two 3’s, coming at the 4:02 and 1:29 marks, while Watters made a difference on the glass. By halftime, the Falcons had a 23-16 edge.
Eley continued to fire from deep in the second half but the Falcons’ depth was too much to overcome. Minford took leads of 28-18, 34-21, 40-27 and 45-32 throughout the second half en route to the win.
That stat sheet was a balanced one for Minford.
Watters led the Falcons with 13 points and five rebounds while Blankenship added 12 points and six boards. Tolle pieced together her complete effort, tallying nine points, seven rebounds and four assists, Slusher had seven points, Shonkwiler had five points and a team-high five assists, and Puckett had four points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Eley led all scorers with 18 points, including four 3-point field goals, alongside four assists, Hughes had eight points and six rebounds, and Richardson scored six points.
What’s on tap
While Portsmouth’s season comes to its end, Minford advances to a Division III sectional final where the Falcons are slated to face North Adams at 2:45 p.m., Saturday at Valley.
“We have to play with some effort,” Davis said. “I’ve seen North Adams play a little bit and they’re long with a few shooters on their team. So we’ll have to come out with some effort and shoot the ball better than we did tonight. We’ll put together something this week in practice.”
Portsmouth: 7-9-8-12 — 36
Minford: 10-13-13-14 — 50
Portsmouth: 14-39 FG, 2-8 FT, 6-17 3pt. (Eley 4), 17 rebounds (Hughes 6), 18 turnovers, 5 assists (Eley 4). Scoring: Eley 18, Hughes 8, Richardson 6, Trinidad 3, Rickett 1.
Minford: 22-56 FG, 2-3 FT, 4-12 3pt. (Tolle 3), 34 rebounds (Puckett 8), 15 turnovers, 14 assists (Shonkwiler 5). Scoring: Watters 13, Blankenship 12, Tolle 9, Slusher 7, Shonkwiler 5, Puckett 4.
Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @dw1509.