Wadsworth point guard Sophia Fortner.
RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE Enlarge
The Wadsworth girls basketball team has become famous in Northeast Ohio circles for elite man defense, and holding Canton McKinley, Perrysburg and Strongsville to season-low scoring totals over the last three games has done nothing to refute that reputation.
The biggest test of the season will come tonight at 6 against Solon (25-2) in the Division I state semifinals at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, as the Comets have all the pieces of a modern, high-powered offense. The winner gets Mason (24-3) or Pickerington Central (26-2) in the championship Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
The Grizzlies (24-3) lost to Solon 49-35 in the regular-season finale.
“We’re just trying to get ready for it,” point guard Sophia Fortner said. “(The thought of going to state) has hit me a couple times, but we’re just trying to focus on the job at hand. It’s an exciting time, a special time, and we’re trying to embrace everything, but we’re still trying to stay focused.”
The Greater Cleveland Conference champion Comets are making their third state appearance in four years with 6-foot-3 Florida State recruit Valencia Myers, who will play in the legendary McDonald’s All-American Game on March 28, starting at center. Their first loss was 58-53 to Toledo Notre Dame Academy at the Dublin Coffman-hosted Rocks Holiday Classic, while the other was 52-40 to Mason at Berlin Hiland’s The Classic in the Country Challenge.
Solon is riding a 13-game winning streak that includes blowouts of Strongsville (59-36), Twinsburg (73-34), Nordonia (51-36) and Stow (60-27). It rallied to defeat Massillon Jackson 47-41 in the Canton Regional championship and is averaging 65.1 points for the season.
“Bottom line is we’ve got to play near our ability level to win this game,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said.
Myers is the natural centerpiece as the No. 40 class of 2018 recruit in the country, according to ESPN. She averages 16.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 blocks. The right-hander is surrounded by four players with 3-point range, which will force the Grizzlies to abandon the back-the-paint schemes that were successful against McKinley, Perrysburg and Strongsville.
Highlighting the role players is Kent State recruit Mariah Modkins, a brilliant and sometimes unguardable 5-0 point guard who puts up 9.8 points, 4.7 assists and 2.4 steals. Akron signee Gabby Mitchell (5-7, sr.) is a pseudo forward who averages 12.0 points, 5-4 Katherine Dittoe (10.5) is a 3-point specialist, 5-5 Kyra Lance (2.9) rounds out the starting lineup and 5-10 Hailey Weaver (4.0) is the sixth man.
Dittoe (66), Mitchell (59), Modkins (45), Lance (19) and Myers (17), all seniors, have drilled a whopping 206 3-pointers, which is 52 more than the Grizzlies have made over the last two seasons.
“Even the best teams that we play don’t have that combination of three legit 3-point threats around a McDonald’s All-American,” Booth said. “And we play some pretty good people.”
Despite the final score, Wadsworth believes the Feb. 16 meeting against Solon provided it valuable insight for tonight. The Grizzlies rallied to tie the game at 28 in the third quarter, but the Comets scored 21 of the next 26 points as Wadsworth struggled with shooting in a 5-for-24 second half.
Defense was where the Grizzlies weren’t far off, as they adjusted to the Comets’ pinpoint skip passes that resulted in good looks for Mitchell and Dittoe in the first half. Myers had 16 points, while Modkins made fourth-quarter free throws to push her total to 11.
Preventing drive-and-kick 3-pointers while simultaneously limiting Myers will be the ultimate goal.
“They have a lot of good players and components to their game,” Fortner said. “We can’t take all of them away, but we’ve got to limit them. First time we played them we definitely learned a lot of good lessons that are going to help us this time.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
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