By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
ALLIANCE -- Arguably the best basketball player in Ohio, Amber Bland put on a clinic as Boardman ended Howland's season for the second time in three seasons.
Bland scored 26 points and along with Brittany Durkin disrupted the Tigers' offense in a 49-31 Division I girls district semifinal victory Thursday at Alliance High School.
Saturday at 1 p.m., top-seeded Boardman (21-1) will battle second-seeded and defending state champion North Canton Hoover (18-4) for the fourth consecutive season in the district final.
"Bring it on -- it's going to be a war," Bland said of playing Hoover again.
"I'm excited because I think it's going to better us because they are a good team. It will help us see if we can compete at the state level."
In January, Bland scored 35 points when the Spartans won on Hoover's court, 50-47.
"[Bland's] the best female basketball player in the state of Ohio, bar none," Howland coach John Diehl said. "She's quick, she plays good defense, she sees the floor, she does it all -- she's just excellent.
"Last year, [Cleveland East Tech's] Barb Turner knocked us out of the tournament and she's starting for Connecticut now. And Bland is better than Barb Turner, by far," Diehl said. "In my mind, it's not close."
Howland kept the low-scoring game close for much of the first half.
Bland made two free throws and scored from underneath as Boardman moved ahead, 15-9, in the second quarter. A 3-pointer by Durkin and two free throws by Lauren Craig late in the half gave the Spartans a 22-11 lead.
Bland made the first two baskets of the third quarter and the Spartans nursed their 15-point margin the rest of the way.
Craig finished with 14 points as the Spartans made 19-of-33 shots.
"Lauren Craig has definitely gotten better [during our] last six ball games," Coach Ron Moschella said.
"She's really turned up her game inside."
Diehl said, "They're obviously a lot more athletic than us. When we went man-to-man in the fourth quarter, they could just kind of blow by anybody they wanted to.
"I thought we did a nice job slowing it down early -- we wanted to have something left in the fourth quarter," Diehl said. "I knew we couldn't run down the floor with them for four quarters -- I thought maybe we could do it for two and a half."
Senior Michelle Rura, whose career was slowed with knee problems the past two years, led the Tigers with nine points in her first full game in a long time.
"This was her last game, so she just decided that she was going to go all out," Diehl said. "She's not in any game shape, but tonight she played more than she's played in a long time."
Darcy Quinlan, an Ohio University recruit, and Kristi Krezeczowski finished with six points each.