STOW — Sophia Fortner stepped to the foul line, caught the ball from the referee, inhaled deeply and dribbled a few times. The Wadsworth girls basketball team’s chances for a Suburban League National Conference championship hung in the balance each time she toed the stripe.
As Fortner kept swishing one-and-one attempts in the final minute against Stow on Saturday night, a secret to everyone in attendance except Fortner helped her focus a la Kevin Costner’s character Billy Chapel in the movie “For the Love of the Game.”
Cue Sam Hunt’s song “House Party” to clear the mechanism.
Let’s have a house party, we don’t need nobody
Turn your TV off, break that boombox out
We’ll wake up all the neighbors til the whole block hates us
And the cops show up and try to shut us down
The rim and backboard weren’t needed. Fortner found nothing but net all six times.
The senior point guard refused to let the Grizzlies lose, putting on a one-girl show over the final 12 minutes and sealing a come-from-behind epic at the line as Wadsworth emerged 53-47 in its biggest victory since the 2016 Division I state championship game.
The world seems right again now that the Grizzlies (14-2, 8-1) are tied for first place in the SL National heading into another critical game Wednesday at Nordonia (11-4, 6-3) after snapping the 14-game winning streak of the Bulldogs (14-2, 8-1).
“Our theme for this game was ‘Refuse to lose,”’ Fortner said before receiving a congratulatory hug from veteran Stow coach Bob Podges. “No matter what the score was or how much time was left, we were not going to stop fighting.
“We were up three points, they missed a three and I said, ‘I have to make this, you know?’” she continued. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to make it, I have to make it,’ I calmed myself down, and (singing in my head) is kind of relaxing. I trust in that and my teammates trust in me.”
Fortner finished with a career-high 22 points and put Wadsworth ahead 45-42, 47-42 and 49-42 by making 6-of-6 free throws in one-in-one situations over the final 1:08. The last two capped a 13-0 run in which Fortner scored or assisted on 11 points.
Wadsworth had no answers for mid-range beast Theresa Parr (15 points, 5 assists) and trailed 29-18 at halftime, but a quick 6-0 run made the game tense throughout the second half, which featured multiple mini-runs by the Grizzlies that were snuffed out by Stow until the 13-0 backbreaker.
The script ultimately flipped as Wadsworth won the second half 35-18, held Parr to five points on 2-for-8 shooting and forced jitterbug left-handed point guard Lexi Petit (15 points, 3-of-7 3-pointers) to the bench with four fouls at the 3:09 mark of the third quarter.
“I like to say, ‘Just calm down, just calm down,”’ Fortner said. “No matter what happens in the past, good or bad, we’ve got to focus on the moment that we’re doing now. We do 100 moments in the game, but whatever happens in the past, that’s in the past. You can only affect the future, so you’ve just got to lock in.”
Trailing 40-34 entering the fourth thanks to seven third-quarter points from Fortner that featured a nasty crossover in traffic for a scooping layup, the Grizzlies baited Parr into tough shots and executed patiently at the other end. The breakthrough came when backup guard E’Anna Won’s second corner 3-pointer of the half brought the score to 42-39.
Fortner then went nuts, assisting Peyton Banks (13 points, 9-of-11 free throws) and Lexi Lance (4, 6 rebounds) to put Wadsworth ahead 43-42 with 3:17 to play. Tulane volleyball recruit Lizzy Stefanov (8 points, 5 rebounds), who killed the Grizzlies with 14 points in a 37-36 Stow win on Dec. 6, glass-balled a layup and Molly Richards missed the putback as the Bulldogs began to panic a bit.
Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth called timeout with 1:34 left and implemented a four-corner offense that was paramount during the final three games of the 2015-16 season. Fortner executed it perfectly, keeping possession with slick dribbling and drawing three consecutive fouls after Stow missed a shot or committed a turnover.
Fortner’s six throws were followed by four from Banks over the final 29.3 seconds as the Grizzlies finished 19-for-22 (.864), including 10-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
After the final buzzer sounded, Fortner spun her right hand in the air like a lasso and trotted to the bench for a flying chest bump with Lance. Nothing fancy. It was more of been there, done that.
“Her foul shots, her threes, her passes, everything (was awesome),” Banks said. “It’s just great to have her. She’s amazing coming back (from a torn ACL).”
A double-digit comeback is normally next to impossible against methodical Stow, and the Grizzlies appeared out of sorts heading into halftime.
While Stefanov’s NBA-range 3-point ability was stymied, Wadsworth struggled to stay organized against the Bulldogs’ efficient 1-4 high offense that specializes in backdoor cuts, curls for layups and 10-foot Parr jumpers. Parr and Petit combined for 20 of Stow’s 29 first-half points and Grizzlies not named Fortner or Banks had four points on 1-for-12 shooting.
Momentum finally swung slightly Wadsworth’s way when physical Georgia volleyball recruit Kacie Evans inspired the bench with a layup, two steals and an offensive rebound to start the third quarter. Then Won hit a corner 3-pointer that was key in ensuring the Bulldogs’ lead couldn’t get above 10 again.
There was no stopping Fortner and the Grizzlies once the 13-0 run began.
They were determined to have a house party.
“We beat Stow,” an elated Won said. “That explains it all.”
- Petit entered a Jan. 10 game vs. Logan entering 6.3 points but has 47 over the last three games.
- The Wadsworth junior varsity’s 147-game SL winning streak ended with a 26-24 overtime loss. The previous defeat came at Copley on Feb. 10, 2007.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Wadsworth 53, Stow 47
WADSWORTH 8 10 16 19 — 53
STOW 13 16 11 7 — 47
Wadsworth — Taylor Leatherman 0-0-0, Peyton Banks 2-9-13, Lexi Lance 2-0-4, Maddie Movsesian 0-0-0, Sophia Fortner 6-8-22, Kacie Evans 2-0-4, Kylee Batey 1-0-2, Allison Elchlinger 0-0-0, E’Anna Won 2-0-6, Molly Palecek 0-2-2. TOTALS: 15-19-53.
Stow — Theresa Parr 6-3-15, Kira Philpot 0-1-1, Lizzy Stefanov 3-1-7, Emily Andrassy 4-0-8, Lexi Petit 6-0-15, Molly Richards 0-0-0, Elise Petit 0-0-0, Bella Adams 0-0-0, Faith Kyer 0-1-1. TOTALS: 19-6-47.
3-point goals — Fortner 2, Won 2, L. Petit 3. Rebounds — Wadsworth 30 (Evans 8), Stow 25 (Andrassy, Stefanov, Philpot 5). Assists — Wadsworth 9 (Fortner 4), Stow 6 (Parr 5). Records — Wadsworth (14-2, 8-1), Stow (14-2, 8-1). Junior varsity — Stow 26, Wadsworth 24 (OT).