By TOM WILLIAMs
West Branch’s Sarrah Tennefoss didn’t score a basket in Thursday’s Division II district championship game at Fitch High School.
However, the junior forward contributed three huge defensive plays that helped her Warriors earn another trip to the Barberton regional tournament, their third in four seasons.
In the third quarter of West Branch’s 55-50 victory over Southeast, Tennefoss stood her ground against Southeast’s speedsters Danielle Norquest and Riley Norquest. Tennefoss drew two charging calls against Danielle then teamed with Kayla Hovorka to draw one against Riley.
“It’s not too hard; honestly, I don’t even think about it,” Tennefoss said of staying planted and absorbing the hit. “I just stand there and I wait.”
One of Danielle’s particularly stung.
“That one hurt pretty good,” Tennefoss said. “She was like a bullet, she came in pretty hard.
“When they come in that fast, I had a feeling they were going to call it.”
Those calls and a defensive foul against Riley put the Norquest twins on the bench with four fouls each with the Warriors ahead 35-27.
The Pirates didn’t quit, keeping the game close until they returned.
Eventually both fouled out but the Pirates didn’t fade until Leann James made a basket with a minute remaining but was called for charging into Brenna Rito.
“Those were so huge, especially the one at the end where she would have had an ‘and one’ if it had been a block,” Warriors senior forward Emma Rankin said. “We were up by six and that would have cut it to three.
“That was massive, one of the biggest plays of the game,” Rankin said.
The game wasn’t easy for Rankin or Natalie Zuchowski, who transferred from Southeast to West Branch two summers ago. Pirates fans roared disapproval, especially when either went to the foul line.
“We were ready for it,” Rankin said. “We knew it was coming. We already knew there were bad feelings.”
Zuchowski said the boos bothered her “a little bit, but you just have to learn to play through that and get past that. We just had to put it all to the side.”
Early on, it appeared the Warriors (24-2) were going to romp to their 22nd straight victory. Zuchowski scored six points and Rito five as West Branch took an 18-8 lead.
The Pirates (21-4) surged in the second quarter, slicing the West Branch lead to 24-23 before the Warriors scored the next five points.
The Warriors also battled foul trouble. Zuchowski had her fourth early in the final quarter and Tennefoss had her fourth with 2:32 to go. West Branch coach Walt DeShields was pleased with how his substitutes responded.
“We had five girls come off the bench [but] it wasn’t something we were panicking on,” DeShields said. “There is a lot of trust in those players.”
DeShields said the Warriors were hoping to take charges.
“We know that Southeast drives to the basket really well,” he said. “Our help had to be there and they had to have their feet set, and they’ve got to take a little punishment. When you take a charge, when you get run over, it hurts [but] you’ve got to get right back up and keep playing.
“Our girls did a nice job of keeping them in front of them.”
Rito, the Warriors’ other senior, scored 15 points while Zuchowski had 12 and Hovorka 11.
“It feels great,” Rito said. “I can’t ask for anything better.”
Riley Norquest led the Pirates with 15 points and James scored 14.
“We have an amazing group of girls,” first-year head coach and Canfield resident Melinda Furr said of her younger players. “They are hard workers and were loyal to the end.”
The Norquests and substitute Lizzy Angel are the Pirates’ seniors.
“The future looks bright,” Furr said.
DeShields said earning a trip to Barberton “never gets old. It’s never easy to win a district title.”