It may not look like it in the final standings but head coach Jason Claytor and his West Union Lady Dragons have had a season to remember. In a program that has struggled to escape mediocrity in recent years, the Lady Dragons won eight games, their highest total since the 2002-2003 season and also picked up their first tournament win since 2008 when they upended the Northwest Lady Mohawks 48-38 on Feb. 10 at Valley High School in the Division III sectionals.
“Defensively we played very well tonight,” said Coach Claytor. “Any time you give up just 13 points in half you have a chance to win. We’ve got some quick guards that can force turnovers and when we can consistently capitalize on that I think we can play with anybody. We finished tonight, made some free throws, and we did an excellent job of moving the ball and finding the holes in their zone.”
“I thought if we went small tonight we would have an advantage and that small lineup really helped us tonight, especially with the help we got from our bench.”
The sectional opener got off to a good start for West Union when senior Mikayla Akers opened the scoring with a three-pointer out of the corner. The Lady Mohawks rallied back to take the lead but West Union tied the score on a bucket inside by Alexa Pennington and took the lead when Akers scored five straight, including another three. A three ball by Northwest’s Hannah Breech left the two sides even at 11 after the first quarter.
There was not much scoring to be had int he second period, but the West Union defense made a stand and held the Lady Hawks to just a single basket over the eight minute span. Meanwhile, the Lady Dragons took the lead for good, getting a reverse layup from Pennington on their first possession, then two free throws by senior Kristen Grooms, a basket from Jaycee Baldwin, and another by Akers. Those scores left the West Union girls on top 19-13 at the intermission.
After finishing the first half on a 6-0 run, the Lady Dragons added to that by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter, fueled by three-point goals from Pennington and Grooms. That stretched the West Union advantage to 26-13 with 4:42 left in the third. The Lady Mohawks answered with a 6-0 spurt of their own, but an offensive rebound that resulted in a three-point play for Akers helped give West Union a 30-20 lead heading into the fourth and final quarter.
A little over a minute into the final stanza, a long three-pointer by Pennington gave the Lady Dragons a 35-24 advantage, only to see the Lady Mohawks come back to cut the margin to single digits with 4:21 to go. The experienced Akers rose to the occasion again, hitting two free throws and then turning a steal and pass from Jaycee Baldwin into an old-fashioned three-point play and a 41-28 lead. Baskets by Pennington and Grooms kept the lead in double digits and the Lady Dragons were never seriously challenged after that.
With 20 seconds left, Grooms nailed a pair of free throws to finish off the West Union scoring in a much overdue tournament win as the Lady Dragons advanced with the 48-38 victory.
Three players hit double figures for the winners, led by 18 points from Mikayla Akers, including 7 for 10 from the foul line. Alexa Pennington added 13, with Kristen Grooms also going 7 for 10 from the line on her way to a 12 point effort, that also included 6 steals in the first half alone.
“Grooms was fantastic tonight on both ends,” said Coach Claytor. “Akers gave us the effort tonight that we usually get from her and it’s nice to have three girls in double figures. The girls were excited in the locker room, it’s been a long time since West Union won a tournament game.”
Northwest was paced by 12 points from Hannah Breech and 11 from Alexis Lisath.
The win earned the Lady Dragons something they had not heard of in many years, a trip to the Division III sectional championship game. Unfortunately, waiting for them there were the number two ranked in the state of Ohio Lynchburg-Clay Lady Mustangs. Look for a full report on that game, one where the Lady Dragons made a pretty good shoe for themselves, in the Feb. 21 edition of The People’s Defender.
NHS 11 2 7 18 —38
WUHS 11 8 11 18 —48
NHS (38): Swavel 2 3-4 7, Lisath 5 1-5 11, Patty 0 2-3 2, Osburn 2 0-2 4, Baer 1 0-0 2, Breech 3 4-7 12, Team 13 10-23 38.
WUHS (48): Baldwin 1 0-0 2, Kirker 1 0-1 3, Akers 5 7-10 18, Grooms 2 7-10 12, Pennington 5 1-2 13, Team 14 15-23 48.
NHS- Breech 2
WUHS- Kirker 1, Akers 1, Grooms 1, Pennington 2