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Courier Sports’ Michael Burwell and Andy Wolf talk about St. Wendelin’s state semifinal victory over Jackson Center.
By ANDY WOLF
COLUMBUS — Team chemistry and heart may be impossible to measure.
Recently, St. Wendelin’s levels have been off the charts.
The Mohawks built a 10-point halftime edge, worked together and never crumbled before topping Jackson Center 47-37 in Friday’s Division IV state semifinals at Value City Arena in Columbus.
St. Wendelin (26-3) will make its first girls basketball state final appearance against No. 2 Waterford (27-1) at 5:15 p.m. today in the state championship game, also at Value City Arena.
“You’re unranked — you’ve got 50 wins in two years and you’ve never been ranked,” St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith said. “I said, ‘Let’s go out and beat somebody else that we’re not supposed to beat.'”
Waterford defeated Willoughby Cornerstone Christian Academy 52-42 in Friday’s first semifinal. The Wildcats knocked off St. Wendelin 42-36 in last year’s Division IV state semifinals before finishing as runner-up to Fort Loramie.
Smith and Jackson Center coach Scott Dosek both admitted their teams were “just happy to be there” in a game somebody had to win.
In the end, the Mohawks came through with help from another clutch performance by 6-foot-4 senior Kamryn Troike. She scored 24 points on 9 of 15 attempts from the floor; grabbed 17 rebounds, five on the offensive end; and blocked eight shots.
Troike racked up 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks by halftime in helping St. Wendelin build a 26-16 lead.
Sure, the 10-point edge was a nice cushion. What it wasn’t indicative of was how Troike had to muscle up for every bucket as Jackson Center, early and often, sent three girls standing at least 5-11 to break up lob passes to the St. Wendelin post players.
Despite winning a majority of those inside battles, Troike called them “the worst.”
“I was (knocked down) on the floor, getting grabbed,” she said. “The thing is, you have to be mentally strong. I feel like I have progressed in that mentality of having two people on you like leeches.”
Troike’s mental progression carried over to the free-throw line.
In last year’s state semifinal loss, Troike went 2 of 8 from the foul line. This time, she made the Tigers pay big time for sending her there by making her first six free throws before missing her last on an and-one with 1:21 to go. The Mohawks led 45-32, and by then Troike had amassed eight fourth-quarter points.
“We warmed up and I got a feel of the rim,” Troike said. “I knew where to release; if I release too high, it’ll bounce off. Free throws are very key. You have to take advantage of it.”
The Mohawks never trailed at any point in the second half but had to weather a 7-0 Tigers run to start the third quarter.
Buckets by Hailee Burns, Troike and Allie Rutter allowed St. Wendelin to go up 32-23 in the final minute of the period. The Mohawks retained a multi-possession lead the rest of the way.
“People see our team and say ‘Well, if you shut down (Kamryn Troike) and (Allie) Rutter, it’s game over,'” Smith said. “But the other girls, they are just good enough to get the job done. Not pure basketball players.”
Rutter finished with 11 points, four assists and three rebounds. She did most of her damage at the foul line, making 7 of 8 attempts.
The senior point guard got a friendly postgame ribbing from her coach for not just “only making two field goals” but also missing a free throw.
“We’re trying to get her to attack the basket,” Smith said. “She’s a deadly free throw shooter. I would expect her to make more than two baskets.”
Burns chipped in eight points and five rebounds, including five points in the second half. She’s now scored exactly eight points in each of the last three tournament games,
“Hailee is kind of the third wheel that doesn’t get up here too much,” Smith said. “Without Hailee, none of this happens. … She has to play to a certain level because of all the pressure on Kam and Rutter. Hailee has got to step up and make somebody pay for that.”
Peighton Troike added three points and five rebounds.
Sophomore Emma Prince had one point but handled the defensive task of being a thorn in the side of Jackon Center point guard and leading scorer Peyton Esser (9.0 points per game).
Esser only tallied four points, two in each half, while hitting 1 of 3 from the field and 2 of 3 at the line. She also committed three turnovers.
“It surprised us. We didn’t know who (Smith) was going to (box and one),” Doseck said. “Deep down as a staff, we thought we had a couple other girls he could box. We were prepared. We got open looks and shots in the last four weeks that we’ve been making.”
Collectively, the Tigers shot 24.5 percent (12 for 49) from the floor, including 3 for 13 in each of the final two quarters. After making their first two 3-point shots of the game to take a 6-0 lead, they finished 4 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Nicole Fogt led Jackson Center with 14 points, hitting 4 of 15 from the floor, and nine rebounds. Pauline Meyer added 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Cassie Meyer, who averaged 8.2 point per game, was held to one 3-pointer in 14 total field goal attempts.
“We didn’t know how big Troike really was until we stepped on the court,” Doseck said. “She’s a big girl who has excellent hands for that size.
“No regrets. Super group of girls.”
JACKSON CENTER (21-8)
P. Meyer 4-9 1-1 10, Esser 1-3 2-3 4, C.Meyer 1-14 0-2 3, Fogt 4-15 4-4 14, Clark 2-7 0-0 4, Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Pipke 0-0 0-0 0, Hickey 0-0 0-0 0, Elchert 0-1 0-0 0, Hoehne 0-0 0-0 0, Winner 0-0 0-0 0, Ware 0-0 2-2 2. TOTALS: 12-49 9-12 — 37.
ST. WENDELIN (26-3)
Prince 0-1 1-2 1, P. Troike 1-4 1-5 3, Hailee Burns 3-6 2-4 8, Rutter 2-4 7-8 11, K. Troike 9-15 6-7 24, Gilliland 0-0 0-0 0, Krout 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Weidner 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15-32 17-26 — 47.
Jackson Center 10 6 9 12 — 37
St. Wendelin 13 13 6 15 — 47
3-POINT GOALS: Jackson Center 4-18 (Fogt 2, P. Meyer & C. Meyer 1); St. Wendelin 0-1.
REBOUNDS: Jackson Center 29 (Fogt 9); St. Wendelin 35 (K. Troike 17).
TURNOVERS: Jackson Center 10, St. Wendelin 15.