Wadsworth’s Sophia Fortner (33), Peyton Banks (44) and Maddie Movsesian (24) hold up the Division I District championship trophy after defeating Canton McKinley 51-46 Thursday night at Medina High School.
RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE Enlarge
MEDINA — As reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball Kierstan Bell launched a meaningless 55-foot bomb that miraculously connected at the buzzer, Wadsworth point guard Sophia Fortner was already looking toward her bench for someone to hug.
Three seconds later, she landed in the arms of dear friend Molly Palecek, a change of tradition after hugging fellow classmate Maddie Movsesian during the 2016 state championship run.
“When we went to state it was always Maddie,” a beaming Fortner said with the net around her neck. “It wasn’t even planned, but it happened (with Palecek this time).”
Second-seeded Wadsworth’s dream of a Columbus return remained alive Thursday, as it stunned defending state semifinalist Canton McKinley 51-46 in the Medina Division I District title game to advance to play Fremont Ross or Perrysburg next week at the Norwalk Regional.
The Grizzlies held Bell to half her season scoring average (17 points), executing a complex game plan that involved face-guarding some players and blatantly not defending others outside 10 feet while also keeping a keen eye on the 6-foot Bell, who was guarded mostly by the 5-5 Fortner and 5-6 Movsesian.
Wadsworth also saw its stars shine, as Fortner (16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), Banks (12 points), Lexi Lance (6, 9 rebounds) and Kacie Evans (11, 12) combined for 45 points, 28 rebounds and eight assists.
Circumstances no doubt helped because Bell sat the final 7:22 of the first half with three fouls, including the final two while gambling for steals along the sideline. The Grizzlies were plus-15 with Bell on the bench.
“Kierstan Bell is one of the best players I’ve ever seen — ever,” Evans said. “We kept her to 17 points, which I believe is her lowest this year. She’s just one heckuva player.”
Wadsworth never trailed after Bell exited in the second quarter and the Grizzlies methodically closed the half on a 9-2 run to go up 27-17.
The Bulldogs (23-2), whose winning streak ended at 17 games, began the third quarter by scoring seven straight points in a mere 1:56, but the Grizzlies held firm and eventually a pair of three-point plays by Lance, sandwiched around an in-rhythm 3-pointer by Banks, made the score 42-32 with 6:14 left.
McKinley embarked on another 7-0 run — this one in 1:31 — to get to 42-39. Fortner countered by cashing in both ends of a one-and-one and the score remained 44-39 for a long stretch as the teams traded bricks and turnovers while playing physically through myriad no-calls from the officials.
Ultimately Wadsworth got a few more stops — Bell was 1-for-5 in the fourth before the half-courter — and went to a spread offense with 1:30 left. Fortner then completed a carbon-copy finish of a huge win at Stow on Jan. 20 by making 6-of-6 free throws in the final 51.7 seconds, pushing her to 8-for-8 in the quarter and 13-for-16 in the game.
Just like that, Wadsworth won its seventh district title in the last eight years.
“Every big win against a great team is a confidence booster,” Fortner said. “This game is going to help us tremendously in the future.”
Pretty much everyone knew going in that the game needed to be low-scoring for the Grizzlies to have a chance, and a strong start helped set the foundation.
Wadsworth scored 13 of the first 19 points while inducing 6-2 Bulldogs center Triniti Lee into two quick fouls, and the score was 13-13 when Bell picked up her second foul trying to swipe Fortner in front of the Grizzlies bench with 1:07 left in the quarter. Wadsworth scored the next five points.
After Bell was whistled for foul No. 3 in front of the McKinley bench while trying to steal a pass intended for Taylor Leatherman (6 points), the Grizzlies struggled to take advantage initially but settled in defensively by face-guarding 11-point scorer Chamera Young (0 points, 0-for-5 shooting), denying driving lanes for talented freshman Kyla Foster (7 points) and sagging off freshman point guard Nakyah Terrell (8). The Bulldogs scored two points in the final 7:22 of the quarter.
The lead stretched to 27-17 at halftime, with Banks, Fortner and Evans combining for 21 points.
“It was effort from all of us,” Banks said. “We had to get rebounds (37-22 advantage) and execute on the offensive end.”
Afterward it was like the Grizzlies never failed to win the 2017 district title with Fortner out due to a torn ACL. Fortner, Banks, Lance and Movsesian were in the 2016 rotation, while Evans is only a few months removed from leading the volleyball team to a district title.
There were pictures, hugs and, of course, cutting down a net. The ceremony was briefly halted with the final cord dangling from the rim as Fortner went through multiple interviews with the media.
Everyone was patient because there was no doubt they wanted Fortner to complete the job. Everyone roared when she finally did.
“I’m just happy, you know,” she said. “I’m just happy for my teammates, happy for myself, my coaches, my family, everyone that supports us and backs us up.
“It was unspeakable. Breathtaking.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Wadsworth 51, McKinley 46
Medina Division I District Final
WADSWORTH 18 9 9 15 — 51
MCKINLEY 13 4 12 17 — 46
Wadsworth — Taylor Leatherman 3-8 0-1 6, Peyton Banks 4-13 3-4 12, Lexi Lance 2-2 2-2 6, Maddie Movsesian 0-3 0-0 0, Sophia Fortner 1-3 13-16 16, Kacie Evans 4-5 3-3 11, E’Anna Won 0-1 0-0 0, Kylee Batey 0-2 0-0 0, Allison Elchlinger 0-2 0-0 0. TOTALS: 14-39 21-26 51.
McKinley — Kyla Foster 3-7 1-2 7, Kierstan Bell 7-18 2-5 17, Triniti Lee 2-9 0-0 5, Chamera Young 0-5 0-0 0, Nakyah Terrell 3-4 1-4 8, Jazzlyn Kramer 2-5 0-0 4, Kyara Lucius 0-1 0-0 0, Jameeonna Cauthon 2-4 0-0 5, Alison Boykin 0-1 0-0 0, Samia Hatchett 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19-54 4-11 46.
3-point goals — Wadsworth 2-8 (Fortner 1-2, Banks 1-4, Leatherman 0-1, Movsesian 0-1), McKinley 3-18 (Terrell 1-1, Cauthon 1-1, Bell 1-5, Lee 1-6, Boykin 0-1, Foster 0-1, Lucius 0-1, Young 0-2). Rebounds — Wadsworth 37 (Evans 12), McKinley 22 (Bell 10). Assists — Wadsworth 9 (Fortner 4), McKinley 7 (Terrell, Bell 2). Turnovers — Wadsworth 24 (Fortner 5), McKinley 11 (Bell 3). Fouls — Wadsworth 12, McKinley 21. Fouled out — None. Records — Wadsworth (22-3), McKinley (23-2).
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- Sophomore Taylor Leatherman is a star in waiting for Wadsworth
- Wadsworth advances to D-I regional title game
- Wadsworth faces another challenge in regional matchup against Perrysburg
- Centers of attention: Lexi Lance, Kacie Evans form formidable duo for Wadsworth
- Commentary: Wadsworth ruined columnist's game plan -- and that's OK
- Titanic matchup on tap tonight between Wadsworth, McKinley girls