West Branch wins on buzzer-beating 3-pointer
By Tom Williams
On a bit of a lark, West Branch senior point guard Brenna Rito went to a shootaround session during school on Wednesday and pretended to make a buzzer-beater.
Hours later at Barberton High School, practice made perfect as Rito hit from the right corner to lift the Warriors to a stunning 45-43 victory over Parma Padua Franciscan in a Division II regional semifinal,
Asked if she’s ever imagined herself being the last-second hero, Rito admitted her fantasy.
“Today, during school, I went to shoot and, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make a buzzer-beater,’” Rito said. “I was just messing around.
“It’s just funny that it actually happened.”
Rito was all business when she let it fly.
“Holy ... that was a great shot,” said Kayla Horvorka, who led the Warriors with 19 points. “I thought it was going to go and then it went in. I don’t have word to describe [how I felt].”
West Branch coach Walt DeShields called timeout with 7 seconds remaining.
“I’d like to say I drew up that shot, but ...,” DeShields said. “I had a play in mind — we’d rather have a layup. But the ball got tipped around.
“Brenna just made a shot that most high school kids dream about.”
Rito inbounded the ball aiming for Horvorka. The ball deflected to Emma Rankin who sent in to Rito with the clock ticking down.
“Believe it or not, that is one of her good shots,” DeShields said. “She likes to shoot from the corner as well as the top. “I’m sure she’ll never forget that and a lot of people who were at the game tonight got their money’s worth.”
The Warriors (25-2) have won 23 consecutive games.
Ahead 30-17 at halftime, Horvorka helped the Warriors dominate early in the third quarter. After Sarrah Tennefoss hit a 3-pointer, Horvorka scored the Warriors’ next 12 points.
“That was a big turnaround for us,” Rito said. “She brought up our energy.”
Horvorka credited her teammates for feeding her the ball.
“I was hot at that point and they saw it,” Horvorka said. “If it wasn’t for them getting the ball and the spots I was in, I wouldn’t have had the [good] shots that I had. Their passes were a huge part.”
At one point, West Branch led 32-23. The Bruins (20-5) didn’t quit. Led by Emily Rauhe’s 10-point third quarter, the Warriors’ lead trimmed to just 35-31 after three.
“She had a great game,” DeShields said of Rauhe.
Momentum swung to the Bruins. Alainna Conroy’s layup gave Padua a 43-38 lead. “We became a little nervous handling the ball,” Rito said of the fourth quarter, “then we overcame that.”
The Warriors answered with baskets by Natalie Zuchowski and Horvorka to set up the dramatic finish.
In the final minute, Rito and Horvorka each tried drives but were foiled by Padua’s Saran Rapacz in the lane.
With 10 seconds to go, Horvorka stole a Padua inbounds pass and the tie-up gave possession to the Warriors (25-2).
“That game took 32 minutes,” DeShields said. “We knew they would keep coming at us — they are athletic, they are fast.”
Rito finished with seven points while Zuchowski and Delaney Rito had six.
Rauhe led the Bruins with 19 points.
Next up is Saturday’s regional final against Hathaway Brown (15-10), a 47-38 winner over Perry.
“They won it here last year and they have four returning starters,” DeShields said, noting how Hathaway Brown had a huge lead against Perry early before the Pirates rallied.
“They’ve got size but I think we match up OK with that,” DeShields said. “Perry came back and made it a game, which gives us a little bit of hope that we can play with them, too. They are a great program and so are we.”