After losing two starters, Western Reserve tops Badger for district title
MINERAL RIDGE — When two teams who hang their hats on their defense meet up, fans are due for a physical contest.
That’s the case with Badger and Western Reserve as the teams scrapped their way through the Division IV, Mineral Ridge District finals on Saturday.
When the dust finally settled, it was the Blue Devils who were left standing, winning the district crown in a 36-24 victory.
Western Reserve was able to bust through Badger’s defense in the final frame, outscoring the Braves 14-7. Every time Badger pushed back, Reserve responded with a run to cancel it out. A big part of that was through the play of Brooke Schantz, who scored 20 points on the night.
Blue Devils coach Steve Miller still remembers Schantz, the fiery leader of Western Reserve’s current squad, in the crowd years ago, as a young fan. Now, she’s a two-time district champion.
“It’s a great experience, especially when you’re younger and in those stands, this is something that you really look forward to,” Schantz said. “Not a lot of people get to district championships, so it’s really special to have that.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Western Reserve. In the last two weeks, they’ve lost two of their starters, so to still be standing after the district stage, is a testament to their grit.
“I’m so proud, I told them earlier,” Miller said. “We lost two starters two weeks ago and those two starters were two-year starters, such a huge part of our program. To be battle-tested, to have everyone to step up their game, to have girls on the bench have to be starters to get here, was a war and then to win it, it’s huge.”
One thing the Blue Devils (17-8) have is experience. As a program, Western Reserve has been at this stage six of the last 10 years. The girls have seen what the district stage can throw at you, whether it was on the floor, on the bench, or in the youth program, they’ve been around this stage of the game.
“We talked about (experience) a lot,” Miller said. “Certainly some of these girls have been in this game before and some of them have won it. On the court, Brooke (Schantz), Lisa (Eichert), and Alyvia (Hughes). They all were instrumental in their freshman and sophomore years when we won the last district championship, and a couple of the other ones were on the bench, and then the other ones were in the program, and always around it.
“I think that’s a big advantage that we certainly have. Getting here six times in 10 years is pretty impressive.”
Badger’s historic season ends at 21-5. This was their first district title game appearance in 22 years and their first league title in 38 years. This is a special group for Badger.
“Only 16 teams get to make it to this point, so being one of those 16 teams, for our program for the first time in 22 years, it’s something to be very proud of and hold their heads high from,” Braves coach LaVell Turnage said. “At the same time, it definitely hurts. But hats off to coach Steve (Miller) and his program, he does a phenomenal job. He’s been doing it for years.
“The biggest thing is just to learn from this. You either win or you learn. … This was probably my favorite group. Being NAC champions for the first time in 38 years and then being able to go to a district championship says a lot about these girls. The hard work, the dedication and coming out to practice and practicing winning games.
The Braves don’t plan on waiting that long for their next trip back to districts though. This new group has set the standard. With star Katie Grexa returning, the expectations are as high as they’ve been in a long time.
“These girls have set the standard for girls basketball at Badger High School and Kinsman, Ohio,” Turnage said. “The mentality moving forward is going to be district championship or bust.”
The Blue Devils advance to the regional semifinals where they’ll take on Buckeye Central. The game is set for Thursday at 8 p.m. at Massillon Perry High School.