United girls back to regional tourney
By Greg Gulas
Sam Mathias is in his second season as the United girls’ basketball coach and already has two consecutive district championships to his credit.
It’s a regional crown, however, on which his team is presently focused for the school trophy case.
Mackenzie Gatchel scored a game-high 26 points, including five buckets from beyond the arc while Emily Zehentbaur added 14 points to pace United to a 57-33 victory on Saturday over Champion as they defended their Division III district crown at Mineral Ridge High School.
They will meet Orrville at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cuyahoga Falls.
Orrville defeated Canton Central Catholic, 58-51, in the Wooster district championship game to punch their ticket to regional action.
“We’ve been on a mission since last year when Smithville eliminated us in the regional semi-finals,” Mathias said.
“We wanted to put ourselves in position to be here in order to get back to there. We had a little more pressure on us to repeat, but this is a veteran group that kept their composure the entire game; even when Champion closed to within three points a minute before halftime. They’re supposed to do that.”
Gatchel scored 12 of her 26 points in the opening quarter, all from beyond the arc, as United (24-2) built a 16-10 advantage.
At one point Champion (16-10) had eight turnovers and just seven points at the 3:28 mark.
“I came ready to play and was on and since I love shooting threes, I was in a rhythm so I just kept on shooting,” Gatchel said. “They’re a fundamentally sound team that plays the ball. This was without a doubt the best that I have ever shot from the field.”
Gatchel’s fifth and final triple at 4:25 of the second period increased the Golden Eagles’ lead to a 21-12, but five points from Gabby Lamont fueled a 6-0 run by the Golden Flashes as they pulled to within 21-18 with a little over a minute before intermission.
A triple by Zehentbaur then helped United close with a 6-0 run of their own as they took a 27-18 lead at half.
“Their 6-0 run at the end of the first half turned into an 11-0 run to begin the third quarter and that was a huge turnaround. You pick your poison with them by either playing hard core man-to-man or zone,” Golden Flashes coach Jeff Thompson said.
A stingy Golden Eagles defense held Champion to just eight points after intermission, while seven points by Zehentbaur and a triple by Sam Spitler helped United increase their margin to 42-26 after three.
“Being able to defend their outside shooters and post play was big for us today. We had a lot more pressure on us this year to repeat as district champs so it’s really a great feeling to now be moving on to regional play,” Zehentbaur stated.
Seven points by Gatchel helped United close the game with a 13-3 run as they won for the 17 consecutive outing. It has now been 58 days since their last loss, a 58-45 setback at West Branch.
United, which held a 24-21 rebound advantage, will enter regional action having won 45 of their last 51 contests over the past two seasons.
The loss snapped Champion’s six-game win streak.