Jackson-Milton dispatches Lordstown in Div. IV

MINERAL RIDGE — Jackson-Milton will get a chance to defend its Division IV girls basketball district title, as the top-seeded Blue Jays pulled away from Lordstown in the second half of Wednesday’s district semifinal to grab a 51-38 win. Lordstown was held to just six points in the fourth quarter.

“We just got the kids to calm down,” Blue Jays coach Pat Keney said of his team’s halftime adjustments. “They were wrapped up in the hype of the game, and we just needed to settle down. We didn’t change nothing on defense and offense, we just told them to calm down and play our game.”

Jackson-Milton led by six with 4:22 to play in the third quarter, when Haley Lengyel made a corner 3. A jumper by Emily Williams extended the lead to 10, and then she followed that up with a wide-open layup, giving the Blue Jays a 38-26 lead.

Kaylynn Higinbotham, however, drained a long triple to cut the deficit to eight points, late in the quarter. Jackson-Milton came back with a corner trey from Ashley Totani, and then Abigail Spalding followed with a short jumper to get the lead back up to 12, with 5:47 to play. From there, the Blue Jays maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

“I think we weren’t pressuring as much as we were (in the first-half),” Red Devils coach Dave Smith explained. “With Jordan (Beach) getting in foul trouble (three fouls by the six minute mark of the second quarter) it didn’t help. She can control how much we do, controls the offense, and is the leader on the floor.”

As for the first-half, No. 6 Lordstown (16-9) gave Jackson-Milton all that it could handle. Despite constant in-your-face pressure from the Blue Jays, the Red Devils managed to keep the game a back-and-forth affair.

Higinbotham banked a 3 to put Lordstown ahead, 9-8, before the Blue Jays regained the lead on a Totani jumper. Totani, who missed her first four free throws of the game, began to find her rhythm in the second quarter.

She started the second quarter with a bucket-and-1, and then knocked down both of her free throws on a 1 and 1 situation with just under four minutes left before half. Her drive to the basket extended the lead to 19-13, before Lordstown closed it to a single point.

However, Totani — who scored a game-high 21 points and made her final five free throws — hit another jumper with 55 seconds left, giving the Blue Jays a 23-18 lead at the break.

“I don’t know (what happened early on), I was just thinking that I have to relax more,” Totani said. “I focused on my form and just going straight up and straight out and it worked for me.”

Jackson-Milton (21-3) will return to the district championship game for a third year in a row, as it will face ITCL Blue Tier rival McDonald for a second consecutive season. The game, which will be played at 4 on Saturday, will be the third time the two squads have met this season.

The Blue Jays swept the first two games this season and won 36-20 in last year’s district championship game.

“We’re happy we get to go to the district championship and see McDonald again,” Keney said. “McDonald plays tough. We’re quite excited at being back at that next level.”