Defensive struggle

Howland holds off Struthers in D2 district semifinal

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Howland’s Mackenzie Maze, left, battles Struthers’ Keasia Chism for possession during Monday’s Division II district semifinal in Austintown.

AUSTINTOWN — In a defensive struggle, Howland defeated Struthers, 35-24, in a Division II Austintown District semifinal.

To start the game, neither Howland (18-6) nor Struthers (20-4) were able to get into a rhythm as both defenses played well.

Howland led 8-6 after one quarter. Gabby Hartzell scored six of those points for the Tigers. Hartzell finished with 10 points

The second quarter is where the Howland offense came alive some as it outscored the Wildcats, 15-7, in the quarter.

Alex Ochman and Mackenzie Maze combined for 11 points in the quarter. Ochman finished with a game-high 11 points and also grabbed eight rebounds.

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Howland’s Alex Ochman, middle, makes a shot as Struthers’ Alexis Bury (13) and Keasia Chism (34) look on.

Howland led at halftime, 23-13.

“I consider (Alexis) Bury the second-best point guard in the area, next to mine, and Ka’Rina (Mallory) did a really good job on her,” Howland coach John Diehl said. “The two Buckley’s did a good job on (Khaylah) Brown. Those three with their defense is probably why we won tonight. Anytime you get to the districts, a 10-point lead is really mammoth.”

Howland continued to play great defense in the second half as the Tigers led, 31-20, after three quarters.

“Our offense wasn’t good, but a lot of that goes to Howland. They played us strong. Everything that we tried, they countered,” Struthers coach John Grandy said. “When we did get shots, we missed them. That’s part of the game. I’m really proud of my team.”

For the last three minutes of the game, Howland moved the ball around without attempting a shot to secure the win.

“They were face-guarding the whole game. I give them a lot of credit for that,” Maze said. “We’re not the tallest team so we are taught to box out on every play.”

Maze finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Howland did a good job on the glass despite a size discrepancy. They were outrebounded, 37-34.

Now, Howland looks ahead to playing the number one Division II team in the state in West Branch. West Branch defeated Poland, 47-25, in the game before.

“They are the number one-ranked team in that state for a reason,” Diehl said about Howland’s next opponent. “We are going to have trouble with their height. There is no question but it’s a nice problem to have to deal with after tonight.”

Diehl also said that the team didn’t like losing to Struthers in the regular season and that’s why the game was so important to them.

Another note to this game was that Struthers coach John Grandy coached in his last game as he said “this is definitely my last game. I’ve said that before but I mean it this time around.”

Howland now goes on to face top-seeded West Branch on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Austintown.