Big challenge awaits Western

Mark Hazelwood • Mar 9, 2018 at 5:00 AM

LEXINGTON — The big, bad wolf awaits.

And that’s just fine for the Western Reserve girls basketball team.

“We’re not hoping for anything,” head coach Brett Robson said.

The Roughriders (23-3) are one win away from reaching the Division III state semifinals following Wednesday’s thrilling 34-30 comeback win over Amanda-Clearcreek at Lexington High School.

But in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. regional championship game back at Lexington, Western faces state-ranked Ottawa-Glandorf (24-2). The Titans will be trying to win a fourth straight regional championship, as it finished state runners-up in both 2015 and 2016, and fell in the semifinals last season.

O-G was ranked No. 9 in the final Associated Press state poll, and are led by a Div. I Bowling Green recruit and four-year starter.

“We know what we’re going to come out and do,” Brett Robson said. “We feel we have the best team in this region. These kids believe in themselves, and we believe in them.

“They’ve worked hard and earned the right to be in this game,” he added. “We’ve had three tough games in a row that I think are as tough as anyone has played down the stretch. We’re ready.”

The Titans are led by senior Kadie Hempfling, a three-time Western Buckeye League Player of the Year, who was also selected as the Northwest District POY on Thursday.

The 5-foot-9 BGSU recruit averages 14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.8 steals per game. OG’s all-time points leader at 1,222, Hempfling has helped the Titans to a 101-11 record over the past three-plus seasons.

In a 48-37 win over Findlay Liberty-Benton — which had just two losses this season to the Titans — on Tuesday, Hempfling stuffed the stat sheet again with 14 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

As a team, the Titans were 20-of-49 shooting in the win over the Eagles, who finished No. 2 in the final state poll. Erin Kaufman is O-G’s second-best player, as the junior averages 8.2 points per game.

Meanwhile, Western is led by the 1-2 punch of senior guard Andrea Robson (12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.4 steals) and junior post Cora Wyers (12.1 points, 7.9 rebounds).

But in the comeback win over Amanda-Clearcreek, one that saw the ‘Riders close the game on a 17-4 scoring run, it was senior Brooke Ommert and Mckenna Woodruff coming up in big spots as well.

Ommert connected on two 3-pointers, then stole the ball and was fouled with 1:04 left and made a free throw to put Western on top for good. Woodruff also entered the game in crunch time, and the freshman hit a key basket during the scoring run.

“Here is the great thing about us, and this was our big identity theme coming into this year — we’re not a one or even two-dimensional team,” Robson said. “We showed that (Wednesday). They’re shutting our leading scorer down (Andrea Robson) to not even being able to shoot the ball, and everyone else stepped up and contributed in some fashion to get the win.”

In the 2009-10 season, the Roughriders also made the regional title game and ran into a buzzsaw: undefeated and eventual state champion Liberty-Benton, led by Cait Craft (Ohio State).

Western lost that game, 73-42, and it was the last time the ‘Riders advanced to within a win of the Final Four.

“The last time I’ve been to a regional final game is when I was a ball girl with that team,” Andrea Robson said. “It’s a whole different world from the Firelands Conference.

“Just (Wednesday), with all these fans here, we don’t see that often,” she added. “It’s hard to hear, it’s crazy, but I’m excited. It’s one more game we get to play with each other, and we’ll leave it all out there again.”

Low-scoring defensive games have been the calling card for Western, especially in the last three heart-pounding tournament wins. The ‘Riders have beaten Seneca East (43-41), Margaretta (44-40, 2OTs) and Clearcreek (34-30) in similar close games.

In fact, Western had scored just 10 points at halftime on Wednesday, yet were only down five and within range.

They will need to do that again on Saturday.

“Our defense definitely kept us in it again,” Ommert said. “It’s really exciting to see we’ve gotten this far, we never quit and kept fighting.

“I think as long as we keep this mental toughness up, we’ll be prepared for what Saturday brings,” she added.

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