The junior tallied 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Flashes to a 51-33 non-league win over Buckeye Central on Friday.
"I remember in the whole second half Mckenna Stephens coming up big every time we needed something," Willard coach Barry Pfahl said. "It did not matter if it was a rebound, a defensive stop, or a shot."
The Bucks had cut the lead to 31-26 in the third quarter when Willard (1-0) kicked their play into a new level. Stephens hit a baseline jumper before Cassidy Crawford scored off of an offensive rebound. A running jumper by Layla Dials made it 37-26 and a banked in 3-pointer by Crawford gave the Flashes all the momentum.
"Our game plan coming into the game was to not let Crawford and (Presley) Feltner beat us," BC coach Abram Kaple said. "We played primarily a 3-2 zone because we did not feel like we could match up with them."
Willard's lead never dipped below double digits in the fourth quarter. The Bucks (0-1) were slowed by the Flashes' defense, making just one field goal in a 11:01 span.
"I was very pleased with our defensive effort," Pfahl said. "That is something I take great pride in. These kids get down in man-to-man and get after you."
Crawford tallied a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. The 13 points move her into second-place all-time in career points at Willard.
The game was a matchup of two successful teams in recent years. Willard was 20-5 last season and have appeared in multiple district championship games in Division II in recent years. Meanwhile, Buckeye Central has won three straight district titles and reached the Div. IV state semifinals in 2017-18.
"They are such great 3-pointer shooters," said Pfahl of the Bucks. "I told the kids that the first three or four minutes of the third quarter was going to be critical. It does not take many 3-pointers and they are all over you. They have a nice ball club."
The Flashes sprinted out to a 10-2 lead after consecutive buckets by Crawford. Buckeye Central drew within three points after consecutive triples by Ryley Kantzer and Claudia Pifher, but Crawford split two free throws and Dials buried a 3 with two seconds left in the quarter for a 17-10 advantage after eight minutes.
The Bucks again cut the lead to three points, but a pull-up 3-pointer by Dials was followed by a pump-fake and score by Stephens. Tristin Buurma scored her first bucket of the contest to open a 24-14 lead, forcing Kaple into a timeout.
Buckeye Central got within eight points once, but Stephens scored off a nice assist from Crawford to give Willard a 29-19 lead at halftime.
"For us to hold Crawford to (13), that is a good job," Kaple said. "She is capable of getting 30 any night. We held Feltner to two points. We did what we had to do."
The Flashes had two turnovers in their first two possessions of the second half and back-to-back scores by Ally Green got the Bucks within 29-23. After eight straight misses to start the quarter, a baseline jumper by Stephens got Willard a score, but Kendra Ackerman drilled a triple to get BC back to within 31-26 with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
Willard held a 42-20 rebound edge as Buckeye Central played the first three quarters in a zone.
"I felt we battled so hard on the boards," Pfahl said.
Pifher paced the Bucks with 14 points.
"We were going to try to take Taylor (Ratliff) out of the game and try to control Pifher," Pfahl said. "Then, we would give help everywhere else we could. In the first quarter, we were playing that heads-up, but they set so many screens for their shooters."
Willard won the junior varsity contest, 30-25. Syana Sivonsak and Summer Kennard each scored nine points for the Flashes.
Kalli Sowers 2-0—5, Layla Dials 3 0—8, Mckenna Stephens 9-0—19, Cassidy Crawford 5-1—13, Presley Feltner 1 0—2, Tristin Buurma 2 0—4. TOTALS 22-1—51.
BUCKEYE CENTRAL (0-1)
Kendra Ackerman 1-0—3, Claudia Pifher 4-4—14, Taylor Ratliff 0-1—1, Ally Green 2-0—4, Lexi Evak 3-0—6, Ryley Kantzer 2-0—5. TOTALS 12-5—33.
Willard 17 12 11 11 — 51
B. Central 10 9 7 7 — 33
3-point FGs: (W) Dials 2, Crawford 2, Sowers, Stephens); (BC) Pifher 2, Ackerman, Kantzer