Girls basketball: West Liberty-Salem upsets top-ranked Miami East

DAYTON — As the wins piled up this season, Miami East’s unbeaten girls basketball team naturally expected to play for no less than a Division III district title. West Liberty-Salem didn’t feel the weight of the same expectation.

The Tigers had another good season, but they weren’t supposed to win Friday night’s sectional final against East at Northridge High School. That right, it seemed belonged to the top-ranked and top-seeded Vikings. But as more and more good things happened for the fourth-seeded Tigers, bad things happened for the Vikings.

West Liberty broke a halftime tie 22 seconds into the third quarter and led the rest of the game to hand the Vikings their first loss, 37-30, and earn a district final berth next Saturday at Springfield High School. The Tigers will play the winner of Monday’s game between Cincinnati Country Day, the top seed in the south brackets, and Cincinnati Seven Hills.

“We didn’t come into the season expecting to go this far,” WL-S senior guard Lilly Weaver said. “And so it’s just amazing to know how good we can be when we put our minds to it.”

The Tigers (21-4) put their minds to the same defensive zone strategy coach Dennis McIntosh used when these teams played at West Liberty on Jan. 29. Miami East won that game 35-24. McIntosh coached his team to focus on two of Miami East’s better shooters and guard the high post area to prevent the taller Vikings from attacking inside.

That left the Vikings (23-1) to rely on 3-point shooting in a slow-paced game dominated by both teams’ zones. They made five, but they took a lot more shots from outside the 3-point line than they did inside it. The percentages were not in their favor.

“We made them shoot a lot more shots from the outside than they probably normally would have,” McIntosh said.

Miami East’s best stretch came in the second quarter when Jacqueline Kadel made a 3-pointer and the Vikings turned two turnovers into layups for a 15-10 lead. But the Tigers tied the score at halftime on Weaver’s 3-pointer. Then the Tigers scored the first five points of the third quarter for a 10-0 run and 20-15 lead.

From there the Vikings kept shooting but never with enough success. The Tigers were able to stay back, guard the inside and build their lead to 31-24 on Ava Astorino’s 3-pointer with 6:54 left.

“We got some outstanding looks,” Miami East coach Mike Evans said. “Shots just weren’t falling tonight. It seemed like a lot of the looks we got were just in and out.”

The Tigers will play in their first district final since 2020 when the current senior class was in the eighth grade. The six seniors include starters Weaver, Megan Hollar, Chaley Wade and Bailey Poppe. Astorino, the other starter, is a sophomore and led the Tigers with 11 points. Weaver and Poppe had nine each.

“This is really sweet,” McIntosh said. “The effort they’ve put in this year to get us to this point has been really great.”

For Miami East and the fans that packed their side of the gym, the loss ends the program’s second unbeaten regular season short of the ultimate goal. The 1998 team lost in the state final and finished 27-1.

“When you’re undefeated that long through the season, and especially with the teams we’ve beaten, it just makes that target even bigger on our backs,” Evans said. “It got tougher and tougher as the season went on, but these girls handled it well.”

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