The matchup everyone in Northeast Ohio has been looking forward to since November is finally here.
In what most expect to be a Columbus-quality Medina Division I District championship game tonight at 7 o’clock, top-seeded Canton McKinley (23-1) will square off with second-seeded Wadsworth (21-3). The winner advances to play at the Norwalk Regional on March 6.
All eyes will be on reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball Kierstan Bell, a 6-foot five-star recruit who averages 34.0 points for the Bulldogs and is coming off a 41-point effort in an 83-58 district semifinal blowout of Wooster. The junior has 2,077 career points, including 816 this season.
“They’re a very good team and they can shoot, but they also have good big girls,” Bell said of the Grizzlies. “It should be a good game.”
McKinley, which was ranked sixth in the final state poll, has won 17 straight since a 59-55 loss to Massillon Jackson and averages 72.5 points. The Bulldogs rely heavily on a man press and force-feeding the ball to Bell, who plays like a “Stretch 4” — a power forward with 3-point range — and can see the floor excellently from the high post.
Coach Pam Davis’ team also has complementary players in 5-5 senior guard Chamera Young and slashing 5-5 freshman Kyla Foster. Young is averaging 11.1 points and has made 47 3-pointers, while Foster is at 8.1 and coming off a 17-point outburst against Wooster.
McKinley has won 19 of its 23 games by at least 20 points.
“They have great guard play,” Grizzlies power forward and reigning Gazette MVP Peyton Banks said. “Their defense is great. We’ll just have to push the ball and play our game.
“(Bell) is an attacker. She attacks the rim and is just a great player for them.”
Wadsworth’s only losses have come to state-ranked teams Stow (37-36), Lakota West (44-32) and Solon (49-35). Powered by a switch-everything man defense in the half court, the Grizzlies, who were 12th in the state poll, allow only 35.2 points with a high of 49.
All-Ohio point guard Sophia Fortner is the glue of ten-deep Wadsworth and averages 7.7 points. The outstanding post trio of the 5-11 Banks (9.0), 6-1 Lexi Lance (8.8) and 6-1 Kacie Evans (7.9) will be a critical matchup, as McKinley only has one player, 6-2 Trinity Lee, taller than Bell.
Guards Taylor Leatherman, Kylee Batey and Maddie Movsesian are next in line at 5.8, 4.0 and 3.6 points, respectively, and are coming off a combined 26 points in a 63-33 win over Brunswick.
“I think it’s going to be a very close game because they have a lot of experience from the (2016) state championship team,” Davis said. “They know what it’s like to be in it for the long haul.
“They like to switch on every screen, so we’ll have to be ready to go to our second and third options.”
In another district championship:
Elyria Division II
Making only its third appearance in the district finals (1992, 2010), top-seeded Cloverleaf (22-2) will take on No. 2 Bay (16-8), which has won 13 of its last 16 games. The winner advances to the March 6 Barberton Regional, where defending D-III state champion Gilmour Academy is heavily favored to be there out of the Lakeside District. The Colts reached this point by crushing No. 8 Padua Franciscan 58-41 and holding off No. 4 Holy Name 55-47 behind a 25-point, 18-rebound outburst from power forward Lisa Wangler. The Rockets, meanwhile, allow only 40.0 points and were pounding third-seeded Clearview 49-20 in the district semifinals until a cosmetic rally made the final score look respectable (58-46). Bay, which defeated Holy Name 45-42 and 51-45 in Great Lakes Conference play, is led by 5-6 guard Maddie Edgerly, while 5-9 post Halle Orr has 64 points over the last four games. Cloverleaf features Medina County leading scorer Helaina Limas (21.5 ppg, 2.7 apg, 5.3 spg) and physical center Mckenna Jordan (10.9, 11.8 rpg, 3.0 spg, 2.8 bpg). Wangler (8.3, 10.3), point guard Cameron Tripp (5.5, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg) and small forward Brianna Gallagher (2.8, 3.7 rpg) complete the starting lineup, while guards Jenna Oliver (2.4, 4.2 rpg, 2.2 spg) and Maddie Boltz (3.0, 12 3-pointers) will come off the bench.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.