WADSWORTH — Fresh off a signature win over reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball Kierstan Bell and Canton McKinley, the Wadsworth girls basketball team figures it might as well keep on truckin.’
The second-to-last stop before Columbus is tonight at Norwalk High — home of the Truckers — as Wadsworth (22-3) will play Perrysburg (22-3) in the Division I regional semifinals at 8 o’clock. The winner will battle Toledo Notre Dame Academy (21-4) or Strongsville (20-4) on Friday.
“It’s exciting, you know?” point guard Sophia Fortner said. “Every year, it’s kind of different with a different team and different teammates. It’s a new experience every time, and I think what we went through last year (13-12 record with Fortner hurt) was tough and gave us an extra boost for this year.”
Perrysburg is making its first regional appearance since 2013 and has long been a respected program in the Toledo area. The Yellow Jackets were eliminated by Notre Dame at the district level in 2014, ’15 and ’17 but avoided the Eagles when district assignments were rearranged in the offseason.
The Northern Lakes League champion is senior-laden with six in the rotation and four in the starting lineup. Its losses have been to D-II regional qualifier Bellevue (57-51),
D-III state contender Ottawa-Glandorf (48-41) and D-III district runner-up Archbold (47-43).
The Yellow Jackets compare to Wadsworth in multiple ways, chiefly among them experience, unselfish offense and stingy defense. It is hard imagining the game getting out of the 50s on either side.
“They understand the type of game they want to play, which is kind of old-school basketball — pound it in the post, be physical, control the tempo of the game,” Grizzlies coach Andrew Booth said. “That’s going to be the challenge for us — dealing with their size, dealing with their physicality and trying somehow to get into a pace we like to play, which is obviously up and down the court.”
While Perrysburg does not have a transcendent player like Bell (ESPN five-star recruit), Solon’s Valencia Myers (Florida State) or Lakota West’s Abby Prohaska (Notre Dame), 6-foot-2 center Ashlynn Brown is a second-team All-Ohioan. The NLL Player of the Year averages approximately 17 points and eight rebounds and is the focal point of the offense.
Balance is what makes the Yellow Jackets so dangerous, however. Power forward Tori Kopp (6-0) can stuff the stat sheet and will be a key player against Wadsworth’s athletic front, guard Nadeen Jemaa has drilled a school-record-tying 58 3-pointers, guard Whitney Thames is a solid rebounder and 5-4 guard Kristina DeMarco is a Miami of Ohio soccer recruit.
“Their whole offense is based on (Brown),” Fortner said. “They have a couple other posts and a good shooter. We’re going to have to shut (Brown) down in the post, and rebounding is going to be another thing that we’re going to have to do. It’s going to be on the defensive end. That’s what is going to win the game.”
Wadsworth is known for its switch-everything man defense that allows 35.6 points, highlighted by limiting McKinley to a season-low 46 last week. The offense continues to be balanced, as forward Peyton Banks (9.1), centers Lexi Lance (8.7) and Kacie Evans (8.0), Fortner (8.0) and small forward Taylor Leatherman (5.9) all average at least five points.
“They are awesome. They are very good and very well coached,” Perrysburg coach Todd Sims told the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. “They are a full-court team and play as hard as any team you are ever going to see.
“We’ll go down there and start swinging and see what happens.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Centers of attention: Lexi Lance, Kacie Evans form formidable duo for Wadsworth
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