By Garth Shanklin
The Williamsburg Lady Wildcats girls’ basketball team had quite the week last week. The squad faced three opponents, two in their own conference, and a third in the conference championship bout.
Williamsburg defeated all three teams, clinching their first-ever league title and winning the league’s crossover tournament.
The week started with a 75-29 victory over Felicity on Monday, Feb. 6. Alexis Chase finished with 19 points in the contest. She also snagged seven rebounds. Emily Brown and Hope Schaljo each scored 12 points, with Leslie Engel and Kasey Connor adding 10 apiece.
Four days later, the Lady Wildcats hit the court in Bethel with the Southern Buckeye Athletic and National Division title on the line. Thanks to 12 points from Emily Brown, the Lady Wildcats defeated Bethel-Tate 45-31, earning a co-conference championship and a spot against Goshen in the first-place game of the SBAAC classic.
That game was held on Feb. 12 in Goshen, and it was quite the contest.
Goshen took an early lead, only to see the Lady Wildcats answer with a Jessica Chase three-pointer to pull in front. Goshen finished the first quarter on a 7-0 run to lead the game 14-8 at the end of the first.
The Lady Warriors expanded that lead in the second period. After Williamsburg rallied to tie the game at 16 with 3:46 remaining in the half, Goshen went on a 10-0 run that spanned the final minutes of the first half and the first 1:31 of the second. The run gave the Warriors a 26-16 lead with 7:07 left in the contest.
Goshen head coach Brandon Baker said he felt the team came out firing in the first half, which was something he wanted to see.
“I thought in the first half we came out with a lot of energy, I was excited about that,” Baker said. “I thought our legs gave away a little bit in the second half and they were able to get by us and get better shots at the rim. They’re a good team. I had a feeling no matter what defense we played they were going to hit some shots and make some plays.”
Williamsburg head coach Mike Madsen had a message for the team at this point in the game.
“We’re down 10 at that point, and I looked at the girls and, you know, in the first half we didn’t compete,” Madsen said. “They had ACT testing today, and we had two emotional wins in the past week. They were a little drained. At halftime, the coaching staff looked at them and said ‘Girls, you love to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing checkers, chess, whatever, you love to compete. So let’s go out and win.’ They came out and did exactly that in the second half.”
The Lady Wildcats out-scored Goshen 12-5 throughout the rest of the third quarter to trail by just three points in the third.
Williamsburg regained their first lead since it was 8-7 with a 32-31 cushion a t6:30. After Goshen answered, Williamsburg went on a quick 6-0 run from 1:04 in the fourth quarter to the 11.6 second mark, putting the game away.
“It was a tough loss, there was a lot of pain in that locker room,” Baker said. “I told the girls, ‘Understand the pain, be able to use it to get ready for the tournament.’”
Madsen said the Lady Wildcats’ victory is important not just for Williamsburg but for the National Division as a whole.
“This is big,” Madsen said. “If you look at the small schools as a group, we had a better record than the big schools today. It was something. We really appreciate Goshen putting this on, it was a fun night tonight.”
Williamsburg’s coach complimented his players, especially Emily Brown’s defense on Paige Garr. Garr finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds, but Brown’s tough defense held her to just five points in the second half.
“The girls played well,” Madsen said. “They played hard. The biggest thing is that Brown just locked down Paige Garr in the second half. She played a little physical, but there were no fouls. She bodied her up, got her out of position and Garr didn’t get the ball, period.”
Baker said that once the Lady Wildcats took Garr out of the picture on offense, she had to adjust to more of a support role instead of the team’s main scoring threat.
“She played well in the first half, in the second half I thought Williamsburg did a great job getting the ball out of her hands,” Baker said. “A lot of double teams, a lot of face guarding. She worked her butt off to make sure her teammates got good looks and she got a few good looks herself, but sometimes the shots don’t fall.”
With the victory, the Lady Wildcats are off until their sectional tournament opener on Saturday, Feb.18 in Wilmington. The players enter the game confident in their ability to advance into the tournament.
“We’re on a roll right now,” Schaljo said. “We can beat any team that comes up against us.”
Fisher added that the team’s success is not a one-year wonder, saying she and the current Lady Wildcats have laid the foundation for something special.
“We’re starting something that’s going to keep going from years and years now,” Fisher said.
Brown credited coach Madsen for keeping the team together and helping them achieve their potential.
“It’s really because of Coach Madsen,” Brown said. “He’s helped us through a lot. He made us a good team this year.”
The Lady Wildcats open sectional tournament play Feb. 18 against Deer Park at 12:30 p.m. Goshen opens play two days prior at Walnut Hills against Taylor at 6 p.m.
“We’ve been to see them, and I think if our girls do what they’re supposed to do we can have success,” Baker said. “The silver lining in this loss right here is that we can tell the girls any small mistakes at all is the end of the year. The next time you feel like this, the season’s over. I’m hoping that as much as this hurts this motivation will help us do the right things in the tournament, which I think they will.”