NORWALK — The Wadsworth girls basketball team struggled last season when point guard Sophia Fortner missed the entire year with a torn ACL.
When the 5-foot-5 was mired in foul trouble during the first half of a Norwalk Division I Regional semifinal against Perrysburg on Tuesday, the Grizzlies learned from past experience and upended the Yellow Jackets 47-33 to advance to the elite eight.
That will take place Friday against Strongsville (21-4), and it has a lot to do with the fact Wadsworth (23-4) was able to play under pressure.
“We had a little adversity to overcome there,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said. “I’m not one of those guys that if you’ve got two fouls, you won’t go back in. I’ll pretty typically put a kid back in. Unfortunately, a minute within her going back in she gets her third foul.
“I just think when you’ve got five seniors overall, not to mention kids that have been down this road numerous times. (Peyton) Banks, Fortner and (Lexi) Lance played here as freshmen in the regional finals. I don’t think I sensed any panic.”
Fortner got into foul trouble early, picking up two in the first 3:42. That forced Booth to go to the bench until the second quarter, when the Toledo recruit picked up foul No. 3 with 5:18 remaining.
Take a step back and manage the clock.
When Fortner left, the Grizzlies were holding onto a 15-9 advantage. When intermission rolled around, Wadsworth was plus-one without their star point guard in the second quarter and held a 23-16 lead at halftime.
“We run drills like this in practice,” said Lance, who scored all six of her points when Fortner was out in the second quarter. “It’s not necessarily with a time clock without our best players in key situations, but everyone stepped up when we needed it the most.”
E’Anna Won didn’t stuff the stat sheet in place of Fortner.
That said, the sophomore managed the game when she committed only one turnover with the game still in doubt and added an assist.
“I thought E’Anna stepped up for us,” Booth said. “That kid, nobody replaces Sophie, but she’s put in the work the last two years and has learned a lot from Sophie. I think it helped her a lot in the game tonight having to go against Sophia Fortner in practice every day.”
Without their star senior at the point, the Grizzlies switched gears and only allowed seven points and two baskets in the final 5:18 of the second quarter.
That’s what you get when you play in Booth’s system, as Wadsworth was able to roll with the tide.
Second-team All-Ohioan Ashlynn Brown (8) points scored only once under new-look Wadsworth and the Grizzlies absorbed every punch the Yellow Jackets threw.
“When you’re this far in the tournament, experience is always beneficial,” Fortner said. “We’ve played in this gym six out of the last seven years, and that helps a lot with the atmosphere and everything. We had a lot of players step up that we needed to step up. That’s the good thing about our team. No matter who goes down, someone is going to step up.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.