That became crystal clear when Western Reserve’s McKenna Woodruff scored a basket with 2:29 left in the first half to bring the Roughriders to within a point of Colonel Crawford at 14-13 in Saturday’s Division III sectional championship game at Willard High School’s Robert L. Haas Gymnasium.
The action only picked up slightly from there when Jenna Skrada knocked down a 3-pointer with just two seconds left in the half to give the ‘Riders momentum and an 18-14 lead into the third quarter along the way to a physical 41-39 win.
With the win, Western Reserve improved to 18-4 overall and advances to face Margaretta (21-2) yet again in a district semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday at Shelby High School.
“A little bit of it was nerves, and I don’t know why, but sometimes you will have that, I guess,” Western Reserve coach Brenda Friend said. “It took us almost the whole quarter to get going, and again all we had was Cora (Wyers) scoring for us. I think you give credit to Colonel Crawford, which was playing a good game.”
From the outset, it appeared that the Eagles (14-9) had the game plan to limit Wyers’ effectiveness on the defensive glass — and the early returns were promising. Crawford was quick to bump Wyers every chance it got under the rim, and used that to their advantage as they grabbed the 12-4 lead in the first quarter thanks to ten offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points.
Wyers and her teammates made the necessary adjustments in the second quarter. The ‘Riders only allowed a handful of offensive rebounds and second-chance points to the Eagles and surged ahead at halftime.
After watching Wyers score their first six points, the ‘Riders other players started scoring as the offense began to move the ball. Wyers finished the game with another impressive outing of 14 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks.
On Wednesday, Wyers became the program’s all-time leading scorer, and takes 1,207 points into the district semifinals.
“Cora is relentless,” Friend said. “She is not going to quit, she’s not going to give up because she has worked really hard to get to where she is at today and there has been a lot of pressure on her all year long.
“One, to get all those records, and the other is that she wants to see this team to win and that is very important to her,” she added. “I think she was going to refuse to let this team lose, and that is what I think a leader does.”
It was fitting that it took an all hands on deck performance to get the win. Every contribution that Friend received was needed. Without it, Western wouldn’t be preparing for the Polar Bears for a fourth time in two seasons.
“Fortunately, we had our four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup to lean on down the stretch,” Friend said. “They struggled off and on throughout the game, and we were lucky to have someone ready to pick them up off the bench and make some really big contributions for us.
“But, at the end it was those five starters on the floor,” she added. “I am glad for them that they got to be the one’s to do it, after all that they have been through.”
Every shot counted in the game, but perhaps none was bigger than the shot made by Katie Hipp with just 0.5 seconds to go in the third quarter. She front rimmed a 3-pointer from the right elbow that somehow managed to stop in mid-flight and topple forward in for the goal to retake the lead 26-25.
“At the time I didn’t think about whether it was going to go in or not,” Hipp said. “I got the ball and was open and so I shot it and didn’t worry about it. I was going to keep playing hard no matter what, but I was glad that it went in.”
The last eight minutes of the game was nip and tuck as the two teams took turns scoring. Woodruff stepped up to the line and sank a pair of free throws with 58 seconds remaining to give the ‘Riders breathing room at 40-35.
“I just approached it like I always do,” Woodruff said. “I have practiced making foul shots thousands of times and I just tried to treat them like any other.”
Western Reserve now faces the No. 8-ranked team in the Associated Press state poll in the Polar Bears. Margaretta won the Jan. 16 meeting in Collins, 52-39. This will mark the fourth meeting at the district level between the two programs since the 2004-05 season.
The ‘Riders won a double-overtime matchup a year ago in the district title game. The other half of the bracket will be just as daunting with Edison (19-5) facing Seneca East (21-2).
“After we did this tonight, I feel a little relief,” Friend said. “It’s like the sky is the limit right now. Where we had to play with nerves tonight, now we can let it all hang out for as long as we are in this.
“Margaretta and Seneca East have been considered the favorites to win this district, and I like that it gives us an underdog feeling,” she added.
WESTERN RESERVE (18-4)
Katie Hipp 3-1—10; Isabella Zvara 0-1–1; Jenna Skrada 2-1—6; Isabelle Duchette 1-0—2; McKenna Woodruff 1-2—4; Emma Blankenship 2-0—4; Cora Wyers 5-4—14. TOTAL 14-9—41
COLONEL CRAWFORD (14-9)
Danielle Horsley 5-4—14; Theresa Dzugan 2-0—4; Rachel Ritzhaupt 0-2—2; Jenna Maddy 1-3—5; Ciera Piefer 1-0—2; Kaylyn Risner 2-0—4; Allison Teglovic 4-0—8. TOTAL 15-9—39
Western Reserve 4 14 8 15 — 41
Colonel Crawford 12 2 11 14 —39
3-point FGs: (WR) Hipp 3, Skrada