It wasn’t a matter of if it would happen, but how soon.
Following a rash of points by Erika Nites, Taylor Williams and Olivia Nicholas to start the third quarter, there was little doubt that Howland had control of its American Athletic Conference game against Struthers.
When it ended on Saturday, the Tigers (17-1, 9-0) won 50-29 and claimed the AAC American Division championship.
Nites had 19 points and Williams 17 to lead eight seniors in their final home-court appearance. Nicholas had eight points and seven of Howland’s 46 rebounds.
The 6-foot-3 Williams also had 17 rebounds and eight blocked shots during the game that marked the only meeting of the teams.
Struthers coach John Grandy was disappointed in the outcome but recognized Williams’ contribution.
“She’s not selfish or anything like that, so she’s hard to guard because she’ll give it up to other people,” Grandy said. “She’s real strong and we didn’t have any answer for her.”
Despite her size, Williams moved seamlessly around the court to get open for passes or to be in position for rebounds.
“We got that nice 16-2 lead,” Howland coach John Diehl said, “then we started throwing the ball away in the second quarter. We got in foul trouble and were a little out of rhythm, so we just talked about making the good pass instead of trying to force the ball down the floor.”
Sophomore Halle Smrek led Struthers with 11 points, while sophomore Brittaney Zupko had seven of her team’s 29 rebounds.
If they played again, there’s one thing the Wildcats would need to do more of: Score.
Struthers made just 11 of 52 shots and didn’t have one double digit-scoring quarter. The Wildcats were only 4 of 11 at the line.
Howland played cleanly enough in the final 16 minutes to minimize the Wildcats’ chances at the foul line.
“We pressed maybe the first six minutes and weren’t getting a lot out of it in the first quarter,” Diehl said, “so we brought them back,” he said of calling off the pressure. “Plus we were starting to get in foul trouble. But, yes, in the second half, we definitely weren’t reaching or trying to block as many shots.”
Following Howland’s seven-point second quarter, Struthers (17-2, 7-2 AAC) closed to within 23-17 at halftime, but made only 5 of 31 shots in the second half.
“I thought we missed some opportunities early,” Grandy said, “but my hat’s off to John Diehl and the coaches because they play great basketball. We got ourselves in a hole, then couldn’t dig out of it.”
For its 50 points, Howland made 17 of 41 goals and 13 of 19 free throws. The Tigers finish the regular season against Mount Lebanon (Pa.) and Hubbard.
Struthers, whose only other loss was to Fitch on Jan. 5, has one more regular-season game left against Liberty.
“It sounds strange,” Grandy said, “but I thought we had our opportunities. We missed some layups — I think Williams has a lot to do with that sometimes when she’s looking over your shoulder — but I thought we had good play; it just didn’t pan out.”
“I give credit to Howland’s defense for that. You don’t want to put it all on us. I got a good team and I’m proud of them.
“One thing I won’t do is apologize for being 17-2. A lot of coaches would like to be in our position. We’ve got to bounce back now and get ready for tournaments.”