BELOIT-The preliminary stage of West Branch's tournament run is over. The Warriors know the road is about to get a lot tougher.
For the second straight sectional game, the second-seeded Warriors rolled through an overmatched opponent, stifling ninth-seed Poland 54-18 in a Div. II sectional final on Thursday at West Branch High School.
West Branch improves to 20-4 and will take on fourth-seeded Ravenna in district semifinal action at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Autstintown Fitch High School. The Warriors outscored their two sectional opponents-Niles being the other-by a combined total of 124-36.
"It's going to get a lot tougher from here," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "The teams that survive sectionals are usually pretty good basketball teams. It's now a four team tournament and we need two more wins."
Melinda Trimmer led West Branch with 21 points while Lea Bock had eight points and Kaylee Manning had five steals, as the Warriors overcame some early slow-down tactics by Poland to seize control.
The Bulldogs spent the entire first quarter content to pass the ball around the perimeter in an effort to burn clock and hold the score down. At first, it seemed to work reasonably well as the frame ended with West Branch ahead only 6-2.
"We figured they would try to do something unusual on offense to throw us off," West Branch junior Pavin Heath said. "But we didn't think they would hold the ball like they did. We've never had anyone do that to us before."
West Branch-not seeming fazed one bit-stayed focused and disciplined on defense, and in the second quarter completely dominated.
The key was a defensive adjustment that allowed the Warriors to better disguise when they would double team, resulting in an endless stream of steals as the lead swelled to 30-4. The Bulldogs got off just four shots during the second quarter and had zero offensive rebounds in the first half..
"We knew we had to keep pressuring the ball if they were going to hold it," Trimmer said. "In the second quarter we rotated better on defense and got some more steals."
"I'm proud of how our players and coaches didn't panic in the first quarter," DeShields said. "We didn't get frustrated chasing them all over the floor on defense. In the second quarter we mixed some things up, and once we built the lead they could no longer stall."
On the offensive side, Trimmer seemed to score whenever she wanted while the Warriors showcased solid ball-movement, with eight different players registering at least one assist and 10 different players scoring.
"My teammates made that happen by giving me open looks," Trimmer said.
"Everybody did a great job looking for each other rather than driving to the basket which created a lot of open shots," Heath said.
Heath's uncle-David Jonofa-is the Poland superintendent.
"We made eye contact during the national anthem and he gave me a thumbs up," Heath said.
This is West Branch's fifth straight district semifinal appearance and third straight 20 win season.
"That's a big plus for this program," DeShields said. "A lot of these girls now have multiple years of experience playing at this stage of the season."
Ravenna beat Ravenna Southeast 57-32 to earn the right to face West Branch. The Ravens are 17-6 overall and finished 10-2 in the Metro Division of the Portage Trail Conference. Both teams beat 14-8 Canfield-their only common opponent. The Warriors beat the Cardinals 52-50 in November, while the Ravens won 65-55 last week.
"Ravenna is a big, strong team," DeShields said. "They have a nice inside-outside game, which they compliment with some quickness."
WEST BRANCH: 6-24-10-14-54
POLAND SCORING: Korina Sherman 0-1-1, Madison Walkama 4-0-8, Libby Rubesa 0-0-0, Kaitlyn Donnadio 0-0-0, Kathryn Wilson 2-0-4, Jillian Penman 0-0-0, Carlie Lattanzio 0-0-0, Nikyah Edison 0-0-0, Joelle Abi Habib 0-0-0, Theodora Constantine 1-0-2, Phoebe Bush 0-3-3, Emily Melnek 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 7, 4-7: 18.
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 8-3-21, Emily Menegay 1-0-2, Kaylee Manning 2-0-5, Pavin Heath 3-0-7, Mariah Herbert 0-0-0, Amanda Linhart 1-0-3, Allie Garrett 0-0-0, Catie Hahn 1-0-2, Paige Walsh 1-0-2, Taryn Hahn 1-0-2, Erica Johnson 1-0-2, Lauren Martig 0-0-0, Lea Bock 2-4-8. TEAM TOTALS: 21, 7-9: 54.
Three-point goals: West Branch 5 (Trimmer 2, Heath, Manning, Linhart).