West Branch held off a late surge from the Quakers.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BARBERTON -- Winners of five consecutive Northeastern Buckeye Conference crowns, the West Branch High girls basketball team is one victory away from collecting another prestigious title.
After being limited to 12 points in the first half of Tuesday's Division II regional semifinal with backyard rival Salem, the Warriors caught fire in the third quarter with a 17-6 advantage then held off a late surge by the Quakers for a 40-37 triumph.
Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Barberton High School, West Branch (22-2) will play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (22-3) for a state berth.
"We felt fortunate to be only down by four," West Branch coach Chuck Campbell said of the 16-12 halftime score. "We played a terrible first half offensively and defensively."
Momentum shifted in West Branch's favor after a pass deflected off Salem's Lauren Teal's arm and into the basket. Moments later, the Warriors' Ashley Armstrong hit a jumper for a 17-16 lead.
Each team sat a key player with foul trouble in the third quarter. First, West Branch sophomore Torie Arndt, who had seven rebounds in the first half, picked up her second and third fouls.
In came Crystal Bryte, who scored two 3-pointers and a free throw in about 90 seconds.
With the score tied 20-20, Salem sophomore Sarah Hamilton was assessed her third and fourth fouls.
"That was the key to the game -- Crystal coming and Hamilton going to the bench at about that same time," Campbell said.
The Warriors then launched a 9-0 run on Amber Metzgar's 3-pointer.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors' lead grew to 10, 36-26, when Armstrong netted two free throws.
The Quakers responded with their biggest surge of the night. After Alyson Cotter made two free throws, she deflected a West Branch pass to teammate Abby Markovich who made an immediate jump shot for a 36-30 score.
On the Quakers' next possession, Markovich hit another trey with 2:15 to play.
"It felt pretty good when it went off my fingertips," said Markovich, who led the Quakers with 13 points.
"Those were huge baskets because we needed to change the momentum," Salem coach Steve Stewart said. "Abby and Alyson were stroking the ball.
"The third quarter proved to be our Achilles' heel, but I'm proud that the girls fought back to get back into the game," Stewart said. "It seems that when it's West Branch and ourselves, it always comes down to the last possession."
In the final minute, Teal scored from underneath to cut the Warriors' lead to 37-35. With 14 seconds to play, Metzgar passed to Arndt underneath for an easy bucket and four-point lead.
Quakers' last shot
Markovich scored with six seconds to go, but the Quakers never took another shot.
"It was a great night for girls basketball, with two good defensive teams going at it hard," Stewart said.
Armstrong led the Warriors with 14 points. Arndt had 10 and Bryte nine.
For Salem, Cotter scored 12. West Branch limited Salem centers Teal and Hamilton to six points each.
In the other semifinal, Villa-Angela jumped out to a 24-0 first-quarter lead before blasting Perry, 93-50.
"They looked good, but ..." Arndt said.
Campbell said, "They are about as talented a team as I have seen. They score an awful lot of easy points off that press, so we've got to make good passes. And if we don't box out their big girls, it's going to be a long night."