Pushed to the limit
West Branch (25-0) quickly asserted itself as the better team as Howland (18-7) needed a timeout with 6:52 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors continued their dominance throughout the first quarter as they led, 15-7, after the first eight minutes.
Howland did not fold, however. The Tigers turned up the pressure along with hitting some good looks to get closer.
“I’m extremely proud of us. There aren’t any letdowns here. I never gave up on us and had confidence all the way,” Howland senior guard Mackenzie Maze said.
“We worked our butts off all week, so I couldn’t be more proud of what we did against this team.”
Howland closed the gap and trailed just 24-20 at halftime. Alex Ochman had six points and four rebounds for the Tigers, while Natalie Zuchowski had eight points and five rebounds for the Warriors.
“I called a lot of timeouts early. We couldn’t go down 10. We gave up too many easy baskets on defensive things we’ve worked on all week,” Howland coach John Diehl said. “I don’t think Zuchowski had a bucket in the second half, so we did a nice job on her.”
To start the third quarter, West Branch again showed its abilities. The Warriors went on a 9-2 run to end the third as they led, 36-26, after three quarters.
“It starts back in the summer with the dream of winning championships. No it doesn’t get old, but we lost a few seniors last year and we will lose five seniors this year,” West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. “Every year these girls want to step up and say who’s next. They really work hard for their opportunity.”
Howland still continued to scrap and claw back into the game.
West Branch needed a timeout with 5:29 left as the Tigers cut the lead to 36-29. Just a few minutes later, the Warriors needed another timeout as Howland closed to 38-31. Howland then went on a 5-0 run because of some good defense and trailed just 38-36.
A big shot by Peyton Alazaus and nn offensive rebound on a missed free throw by West Branch sealed the win.
“I thought we had them rattled when we cut it to two at the end,” Diehl said. “We missed a couple of shots and they (West Branch) made their free throws. When Alazaus hit that 3 that was sort of the dagger with a few minutes to go. It was a good effort.”
Now West Branch goes on to face Akron St. Vincent St. Mary on March 6 in a Barberton Regional semifinal game.