Waterford punches ticket to regional final
CHILLICOTHE — Seven weeks ago if you’d have told Jerry Close that Waterford would be advancing to the Division IV regional finals, he’d have called you crazy.
Fast-forward to Thursday at Southeastern High School, that’s exactly what Close’s Wildcats did, defeating Newark Catholic 55-48 in the regional semi. Waterford (18-6) now will face Peebles, the team which has eliminated the Wildcats from the postseason the past two years, at 7 p.m. Saturday for the regional championship.
Waterford was having an up and down season early on, due in part to a very tough schedule, but is hitting its stride and has become very dangerous at the most important time of the season.
“We hadn’t even scouted Newark Catholic until we won Saturday,” Close said. “The way we had been playing… we started playing well, but we just wanted to take it one game at a time and I think that’s paid off for us. We started focusing one game at a time and I think the kids have really bought in to what we’re trying to do.”
Mackenzie Suprano led all scorers with 19 points. She hit four 3-pointers in the game, including three in the first quarter to help Waterford jump out to a 15-8 lead.
“We joked with her and said ‘If you go 10 for 15 from 3 tonight, that’d be nice,'” Close said. “So she goes out and hits her first two. That was fun, but I thought that got us energized. Those things take the nerves off a little bit. Once you get a little bit of a flow, I think the nerves go away.”
Suprano also grabbed six rebounds for the Wildcats. The junior said the team has come a long way this season.
“It’s substantial how far we’ve grown,” Suprano said. “We kind of started, and we would put together a good quarter here or there, but now we’re putting all four quarters together and we’re cooking.”
From the 3:45 mark in the first quarter to the 1:53 mark in the second quarter, Newark Catholic (18-2) did not make a single field goal as Waterford’s defense picked up where it left off in the district tournament.
“The kids did a nice job,” Close said. “They didn’t get a lot of clean looks. They didn’t get to run their offense the way they typically do and that’s what we tried to do.”
Waterford won the second quarter 13-5 to take a 28-13 halftime lead. The Green Wave got within eight, 30-22, in the third quarter on Harlei Antritt’s three-point play, but Cara Taylor made two free throws and Suprano hit back-to-back baskets to stretch it back to 14. It was 42-28 after three.
Riley Schweikert opened the fourth quarter with a 3, and after Newark Catholic scored four straight points, Suprano hit another to put the Wildcats up 48-32 with 5:30 left in the game. In the final four minutes the Green Wave outscored Waterford 16-7 as they tried to claw back into the game, but with 35 seconds left Brynn Peddicord was called for a charge, and Waterford drained the clock from there.
Peddicord and Antritt led Newark Catholic with 17 points apiece. Antritt grabbed seven rebounds while Peddicord had five boards and three steals.
The Green Wave shot 37% (14 for 38) from the floor and committed 21 turnovers against Waterford’s pressure.
Taylor finished with 16 points, five assists and three steals for the Wildcats. Schweikert added eight points and a team-high seven rebounds. Lily Franchino started for Waterford and contributed four assists and three steals. Kari Carney, Madi Hiener and Brianna Offenberger all contributed off the bench as well.
“Our bench has played exceptional this last month, month-and-a-half of the season,” Close said. “That’s been the difference on our team. This team has come together the last six weeks, and I couldn’t be prouder of the effort they’re giving us night in and night out.”
Now, it’s on to the regional final, where Waterford will try to capture its fifth state tournament berth in seven years.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” Close said. “There’s been a lot of talk about, we didn’t deserve to be here and we upset Notre Dame. I don’t really think it was an upset, so I’m just happy for the kids.”
Suprano and the Wildcats have another shot at Peebles and All-Ohio guard Jacey Justice.
“We’re all really excited,” she said. “We’ve got one more and we’re all hoping to push it there and make it to the Final Four.”
Jordan Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.