The Crimson Flashes held the Whippets to three points in the second quarter while building a double-digit lead they maintained in the second half. The Flashes get a rematch with area power Bellevue (22-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the district title game.
“If you’re going to win championships it’s about defense,” Willard coach Jon Dawson said. “We don’t consistently shoot the ball real well. The thing that never falters is defense. We bring that every night and I thought tonight was a good example of that.
“We just really locked down. The kids did a good job of following the game plan and taking away their strengths.”
Senior post Lydia Wiers led Willard (20-4) with 14 points — 10 in the second half to turn back Shelby’s comeback bid.
Willard put the game away after Shelby pulled to within 37-26 on a three-point play by Bailey Walter with 3:02 to play. First, Wiers found Presley Feltner for an easy layup. On Willard’s next possession, Feltner passed to an open Wiers for an easy basket and a 41-26 lead with 2:06 left.
“We just have that chemistry,” Wiers said. “Sometimes we just feel it and know where each other are.”
Dawson was glad to see the 6-foot-1 Wiers show some aggressiveness on offense.
“At times she’s passive; that’s her personality,” Dawson said. “Tonight she kind of took control a little bit more. Along with Cassidy (Crawford) and Presley she did a great job on the boards, defending them and getting some buckets inside.”
Willard led 13-9 after one quarter when Shelby freshman point guard Sophia Niese banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Niese was the only Whippets player to finish in double figures with 11 points.
The shot didn’t seem to bother the Flashes, though, as they outscored Shelby 11-3 in the second quarter and finished the half with a buzzer-beating jumper by Feltner.
There was more tough defense in the third quarter as Shelby managed only seven points.
“We knew we had to get stops on defense and it would transfer to our offense,” Wiers said. “It worked out perfectly.”
Crawford added nine points for Willard, which beat Shelby 57-50 on Jan. 29. Shelby’s three losses this season came to Willard (twice) and Bellevue, the team Willard plays in the district final Saturday night.
The Lady Red defeated the Flashes 64-40 in the regular season. Bellevue is the No. 1 seed in the Galion district; Willard is the No. 2 seed.
“It’s probably good that it’s a quick turnaround,” Dawson said about the matchup. “They’re a tough opponent, for sure. We’ve got one day to prepare. We’re just going to go do what we do and see what happens.
“I think we’re going to be fine. We’ve got a lot of buy-in from the kids right now.”
Layla Dials 1-2—5, Cassidy Crawford 4-0—9, Lydia Wiers 7-0—14, Presley Feltner 3-0—6, Kelli Sowers 1-1—3, Haylie Hamons 1-0—2. TOTALS 19-5—45.
Sophia Niese 4-2—11, Sydnie Seibert 1-1—3, Emma Randall 2-2—7, Cierra Gurney 3-0—6, Bailey Walter 3-1—7, Jenna Holloway 1-0—2. TOTALS 13-6—36.
Willard 13 11 9 12 — 45
Shelby 9 3 7 15 — 34
3-point FGs: (W) Dials, Crawford; (S) Niese, Randall