For 25 years, West Liberty-Salem High School girls basketball coach Dennis McIntosh has preached defense.
The Tigers have been a perennial powerhouse in the Ohio Heritage Conference, winning nine conference titles since 2003, including last year’s North Division title. The one constant, McIntosh said, has been tenacious defense.
This year is no different. The Tigers (6-3, 4-0) have won six straight, allowing just 25.3 points per game during the streak which includes victories over Fort Loramie and Anna.
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“We rely a lot on our defense,” McIntosh said. “Our goal is to try to hold teams to under 40 points every night. For the most part, we’ve been pretty successful doing that. We try to create some offense out of our defense using full-court pressure at times.”
The Tigers opened the season with three straight losses. WL-S was without returning leading scorer, Kelsey Day, who missed those games with an injury. The Tigers also played deep into the soccer postseason, falling in the district finals, McIntosh said.
“It takes some time to get into the basketball swing of things, especially the shooting part of it,” he said.
Since those losses, the Tigers have ramped up their defense. In their game against Anna, the Tigers held the Rockets scoreless for nearly 11 minutes. They held West Jefferson to 12 points in a victory on Dec. 20 and allowed just two points in the first half against Fairbanks.
“The kids have really bought into what we’re trying to do defensively,” McIntosh said. “They work really hard at it. It makes it easier when you’ve got kids who want to work on defense because you don’t always have that.”
Seniors Gabby Hollar (10.4 points, 3.4 assists per game), Paige Shafer and Day (10.0 points) are leading a young Tigers squad that has no juniors. Sophomores Sophie Cole, Grace Estes and Selena Weaver and freshman Emily Hollar and Hallie Smith round out the Tigers rotation.
Weaver scored 15 points off the bench as WL-S beat Mechanicsburg 58-40 in a key OHC North showdown on Dec. 22.
“The sophomores have had to step up and do a little more for us this year,” McIntosh said. “I think they’re getting better as the season goes along.”
The Tigers face a key OHC crossover division game on Thursday night agasint Greeneview in West Liberty. Last season, the Tigers beat the Rams in the Division III tournament to advance to the district finals.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” McIntosh said. “(Greeneview coach Tim Hoelle’s) program down there do a lot of things well that’s going to cause some mismatches on defense. We’re going to have to hopefully find some ways to stop there offense, they’ve been scoring in the 50s and 60s quite a bit.”
WL-S beefed up its schedule for the second straight year to prepare themselves for the postseason, facing the likes of Tippecanoe, Miami East and Jonathan Alder. The Tigers host Versailles on Jan. 29.
“You only get six non-league games, so we tried to find a real competitive non-league schedule,” McIntosh said. “Hopefully, when we get to tournament time it will work to our advantage.”
Big game: Since starting the season 0-2, Tecumseh has won five straight. The Arrows (5-2, 2-1 Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division) face a key division matchup against Jonathan Alder (7-2, 2-1) on Saturday night. A win would give the Arrows a two-game lead over the Pioneers early in the conference slate.
Big test: Kenton Ridge (6-2) faces a key non-league game when it hosts Greater Western Ohio Conference National East Division leader Centerville (10-1) on Thursday night. The Cougars have won three straight since falling to Tecumseh on Dec. 15.