The West Liberty-Salem girls basketball team came to Cedarville on Thursday just wanting to play basketball. They wanted to forget, at least for a couple of hours, what’s been weighing on their minds since a shooting at their school last Friday morning.
Their focus was obvious from the beginning. The Tigers made basket after basket, many from 3-point range, to build an 18-point lead in the first quarter against one of the best teams in the Ohio Heritage Conference. In the end, that fast start was enough to hold off Cedarville for a 50-39 victory.
“I thought we played great,” Tigers coach Dennis McIntosh said. “We’ve had a real stressful week at school, and our practices haven’t been real lively. But they came out and played hard right from the start. I couldn’t ask for any more out of them.”
The 22-4 lead was built largely on Lily Yoder’s four 3-pointers. She finished with 14 points, and Mikalia McIntosh scored 12.
“Hats off to them for everything that they’ve went through to come out and shoot like that,” Cedarville coach Josh Mason said. “When they gain momentum it’s hard to derail a team like that.”
The Tigers (15-1, 8-0 OHC North) are cruising toward a division title. Their toughest remaining tests are two games against Mechanicsburg (8-6, 5-3). Cedarville (13-3, 8-2 South) is battling Southeastern (6-2) for the South title. Those teams meet on Feb. 4.
Cedarville outscored the West Liberty over the final three quarters, but 22-4 after one quarter and 33-14 at halftime was just too much. The Tigers moved the ball well and hit open shots in the first half against the Indians’ 2-3 matchup zone.
“They were good at finding the gaps and skip passes,” Mason said. “They knew the seams to hit and where to place their girls around the three.”
Mason went man-to-man in the second half and eventually extended that to full court and traps to try to get back in the game. It worked on the defensive end, holding the Tigers to 17 second-half points. But the Indians struggled to score. Maggie Coe and Ise Bolender led them with 11 points apiece.
“Our defense held up great,” McIntosh said. “They got a couple transition baskets and got the lead to 12, 14 points and cut it to 11 once. Our defense won the game for us tonight.”
The Indians cut the lead to 42-30 with 3:03 left, but that’s when the Tigers starting making free throws after missing five in a row.
“If you were at this game, you’d say that we played until the final buzzer,” Mason said. “Our second-half defense we really picked up the intensity. And they showed me a lot with their heart, their character. Moving forward we’re going to be able to build off that.”