W. Branch 50
Next: Liberty vs. West Branch, March 3, 6 p.m., at Austintown
By Jim Flick and Doug Chapin
The lead swung wildly back and forth Thursday night, and when the night was over, the West Branch High girls basketball team defeated Cardinal Mooney 50-43 in a Division II tournament game.
The victory earned West Branch (17-5) a matchup against Liberty on March 3 in the district tournament at Austintown Fitch.
The Warriors led 16-10 after the first quarter, but Mooney (8-13) outscored West Branch 14-2 in the second quarter to swing the lead back into their favor. The Cardinals led 24-18 at halftime.
But the score swung back in West Branch’s favor in the third quarter, as the Warriors outscored the Cardinals 20-6 to take a 38-30 lead after three quarters.
The scoring trend shifted slightly back in Mooney’s favor in the fourth quarter, as the Cardinals outscored the Warriors 13-12.
West Branch coach Walt DeShields said his players “responded real well in the second half.”
Mooney coach Bill Ritter couldn’t explain the ups and downs of his team’s efforts. “West Branch had more energy than we did in the second half.
“They’re extremely well-coached, and the girls executed their game plan extremely well,” Ritter added.
West Branch’s scoring was keyed by the long-range shooting of Tia King and Kelsey Loiselle. King sank four 3-pointers as she scored 16 points, while Loiselle sank a trio of 3-points while scoring 14 points.
Brandi Snyder added nine points for the Warriors.
Mooney was led by Chyna Davis, who connected for 12 points. Christine Pelini added eight points for the Cardinals.
The Warriors’ long-range shooting accounted for most of their scoring margin. West Branch connected for seven 3-point field goals, while Mooney sank only one, on a shot by Dina Daltorio.
For West Branch, the game was difficult because it was the second consecutive night on the court for the Warriors. DeShields said that while preparing for the game, he worried that fatigue would limit his team’s efforts.
“But it didn’t seem like our legs were tired tonight.”
The team’s effort and the win, DeShields said, prove that “these girls are believing in themselves. Tonight, we needed everything we had.”
The West Branch team fended off a determined fourth-quarter effort by Mooney. The Cardinals closed to within two points of the Warriors, 44-42, when DiDomenico sank a free throw.
But Mooney was unable to close the gap. West Branch outscored Mooney 6-2 in the final two minutes of the game.
LIBERTY 51, CRESTWOOD 46
Liberty rallied from a 27-18 halftime deficit and rode a 21-point performance from Vakeyla Merriweather to advance. Liberty (12-9) will face second-seeded West Branch on March 3.
“We came out and played man-to-man in the second half and the kids did a heck of a job,” Liberty coach John Hritz said. “We thought we were more athletic and we figured if they were going to beat us, they would have to beat our athleticism and our quickness. Our kids did a nice job, they played great defense.”
The fourth-seeded Leopards used a 13-4 run in the first five minutes of the third period to tie the game at 31-31, and led 39-38 at the end of the quarter. Liberty opened a lead as large as five point, 46-41, but Crestwood (14-7) tied the game at 46-46.
A free throw by Toni Reese at the 1:15 mark put Liberty ahead for good and Merriweather was perfect on four foul shots in the final 45 seconds.
The Leopards shot 18-for-21 (86 percent) at the free throw line for the game.
“Our foul shooting was very instrumental,” Hritz said. “We preach foul shooting all year and we do it every day in practice. At the end of the ball game our foul shooting won the game for us.”
Mindy Dykes added 11 points for Liberty and Ja’nate Byrd scored eight.
The Leopards have had an up-and-down season, but one of the ups is a victory over top-seeded Struthers.
“The girls know they can beat anyone in this tournament,” Hritz said. “When we come to play we can play with anyone. If we don’t come to play it’s a whole different story.
“We will take one game at a time and hope that we can get to that district final game and see what happens.”