COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — It’s hard to beat experience — particularly experience in the brightest of spotlights.
Millersburg West Holmes, one of the most historic girls’ basketball programs in Ohio, proved that again on Saturday at Value City Arena.
Paiten Strother scored 18 points and Emily Molnar 15 to lead top-ranked West Holmes back from a poor start to a 62-45 victory over No. 2 Kettering Alter in the Division II girls’ state championship game.
“This was our sixth time playing on this floor. And I think the sixth time was the charm,” said Lady Knights coach Lisa Patterson, referring to her team’s trips to the state each of the last three years including losses in the final the last two. “It’s a matter of (our players) being so confident. They weren’t going to let somebody take this away from them.”
The title was the fourth for West Holmes (29-0) but first since its unapproached and unprecedented 108-game winning streak that included the three previous titles in 1984-86.
Alter (29-1) led 7-0 almost 4 minutes into the game, but behind Strother and Molnar, West Holmes scored 23 of the next 27 points and was never headed.
“Their kids kind of decided they weren’t going to give us the easy looks,” said Alter co-coach Kendal Peck. “Their defense is really, really good. They’re very well-coached. We had two wide-open looks to get to 7-0 and then we didn’t get another wide-open look the rest of the quarter. So they had something to do with that.”
Libby Bazelak had 16 points for Alter, which hadn’t really been tested all season — winning by at least 12 points in every game until a 50-47 win in the semis against Toledo Rogers. Alter started two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.
West Holmes’ first team Associated Press All-Ohioan and co-player of the year in the division Laina Snyder was held to just eight points — only two through three quarters — but did grab 11 rebounds.
The Lady Knights’ depth, tenacious defense and unselfishness with the ball more than made up for Snyder’s lack of scoring.
Strother scored the first five points for her team and had eight by halftime when the Lady Knights were in control.
“I was confident,” she said. “I knew it was my last high school game and I just wanted to give it everything I had.”
Alter hit two of its first four shots but made just 12 of 47 after that, finishing at 27.5 percent for the game.
To put West Holmes’ 108-game winning streak into perspective, no other school has come within 34 games of that remarkable streak.
Up by nine at the half, West Holmes then scored the first five points of the third quarter on a free throw and a bucket by Molnar and another basket by Hannah Clark to push the lead to 28-14. A 7-0 run, built around a three-point play by Strother, doubled the score at 38-19.
The outcome was never in doubt again.
It appeared Alter was going to dominate the game after the first 3:56.
West Holmes was 0 for 4 from the field with four turnovers and Alter, led by Emma Bockrath, a first-team All-Ohioan, led 7-0. Bockrath hit a 3-pointer on Alter’s first possession, then was fouled and tossed in both free throws on the second.
Braxtin Miller, Alter’s freshman point guard who is no relation to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, then stole a pass and dribbled the length of the court for a layup and a 7-0 lead.
But West Holmes, making its eighth trip to the state tournament and its third in as many years, is accustomed to overcoming difficult times.
It ran off the next 11 points to take command.
“We switched (from zone) to man pretty early and did what we’ve done all year,” Patterson said. “That might have been the difference in the game. That was textbook defense in the second quarter.”
Alter was appearing in its fifth final four, having won its only state crown in 2008.
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