ELIDA — The Stryker Lady Panthers fought, scrapped and clawed to the final buzzer, but their return to the D-IV regional stage was cut short at the semifinal.
While hanging in step with Arlington in a 29-26 second half that had the slightest of edges leaning toward the Lady Red Devils, it was an insurmountable 40-24 halftime deficit that proved to be too much for the Panthers in a 69-50 setback on Thursday in game one of a Region 14 semifinal twinbill at the Elida Fieldhouse.
In the nightcap, Ottoville set up a regional championship date with Arlington after squeezing by a Hopewell-Loudon, 47-41. The Lady Green and the Red Devils will now reconvene at the Fieldhouse on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff to battle for a Regional 14 title and a berth among the D-IV “Final Four.”
Ottoville (23-4) will be playing for shot at its third consecutive trip to the Jerome Schottenstein Center at the Ohio State University. Meanwhile, Arlington (22-4) will hope to make just the program’s second state appearance, the first reaping a D-IV championship in 2012 under head coach Seth Newlove.
The Lady Panthers came into their first regional tilt since 2016 riding a defensive attack that had only allowed 50 or more points four times in 26 games and never more than 55. But game one of Thursday’s semifinal doubleheader saw them run into a multi-pronged Arlington buzzsaw that applied full-court pressure throughout and racked up the points behind the potent senior trio of Jenna Pepple and Sarah Solt at guard positions and 5-1 Hannah Willow in the paint.
Pepple led the Devil with a game-high 23 points, canning five treys when Stryker focused inside in an attempt to limit Willow, who finished with 14.
“They’re an up-and-down kind of team, and we wanted to force them to shoot from the perimeter,” said Stryker head coach Steve Brown. “We thought their strength was getting to the basket, so you’ve got to give them credit. They made those shots.
“I thought defensively we were doing what we worked on in practice,” he said. “We scouted them and we had plenty of film on them, and we just did not see it on film. And that’s tough sometimes, you know, but we had not really seen them shoot like that.”
Pepple knocked down her first two triples in the first quarter and poured in her first eight points for a 22-16 Arlington lead that saw the Panthers hold up well against the press while mounting a noteworthy perimeter surge of their own.
While the Devils hit 3-of-6 from long range out of 7-of-11 total from the field, Stryker seniors Brittney Haines, Emma Grime and Katelyn Tingley joined junior Courtney Stewart for a 4-of-6 showing from downtown that rivaled the other side despite heavy defensive pressure from the jump.
“Early in that first quarter we had some turnovers and we used a couple of timeouts because we were in that big of situations,” said Brown. “They were prepared and I thought our kids were too, but they just executed a little bit better than we did.”
If the first quarter wasn’t tough enough for the Panthers, an 18-8 second was enough to make a world of difference in the final score.
It seemed as though Stryker was going to make it a rough go for the Red Devils when Grime sank a pair of freebies 34 seconds in to cut the deficit to just four points, but then an offensive and defensive wave crashed the court and sent Arlington sailing into the break.
A Solt 3-ball at the 7:12 mark was followed by a two-minute lull in which neither team got much going on. But an offensive putback by 6-1 senior Morgan Smith sent the Devils on a 15-5 rip down the stretch that included three Stryker turnovers on consecutive possessions in the thick of it.
As a result, the Panthers finished a dizzying second stanza converting just 2-of-8 from the floor while Arlington — attacking more on the inside and in transition — went 7-of-14.
“The only thing they really were hurting us on it seemed like for a long time there was threes, which I knew coming in they could shoot the heck out of the basketball,” said Newlove. “But I think our athleticism bothered them a little bit. But man, they have three really good guards and I thought we defended them really well.”
“We’re versatile, we’re able to switch a lot of things and we did,” he added. “Our post players can guard. We didn’t want to give up anything easy and we didn’t give up much easy around the basket.”
After trimming Arlington’s lead to as little as 13 points in the third before falling back to an 18-point hole with a quarter to play, things looked grim for the Panthers when Willow led a 6-2 mini-spurt that swelled the Lady Red Devils’ advantage to 60-38 with 5:43 left in the game.
But Stryker had cracked the regional level for a reason, and it was obvious the Lady Panthers were going to leave everything on the floor.
Led by Haines with six points and a pair of clutch steals, Stryker forced seven turnovers through the final minutes of the contest and pulled within 13 points on a 10-1 run that shaved the Arlington lead to just 61-48 with nearly half the stanza remaining.
However, the Devils responded by making the most out of a bonus situation, connecting on 8-of-10 from there as the Stryker shooting flattened out and lost touch with a comeback bid.
“I watched a game where they were down 16 in the fourth quarter and came back and won by four, I watched another game they were down 13 going into the fourth and they came back and won the game,” said Newlove of the Lady Panthers. “I knew Stryker wasn’t gonna quit. They’re really good, they’re well coached, but I thought our girls just played really hard tonight.”
The exit from tournament play brought an end to a 24-3 season for the Panthers, while Haines, Grime, Tingley, Anna Stuckey, Aaliyah Waterfield and Breanna Doriot now move on from their senior season after leading BBC champion Stryker to an 11-game win streak leading up to Thursday’s clash with the Lady Red Devils.
“That’s one of the toughest locker rooms I’ve ever walked out of,” said Brown following the loss. “Those kids gave this community every little ounce of energy they had, in practice, at games, at boys games cheering. It’s a tremendous, tremendous group of young ladies. Things didn’t go our way tonight, that’s for sure. They were more physical than us, they just hurt us bad on the boards, but we kept fighting.”
In the nightcap, Ottoville had to hold off a Hopewell-Loudon squad that trailed 36-24 after three but rallied for a 17-11 final eight minutes to push the Lady Green to the limit.
Senior guard Haley Hoersten led Ottoville with 14 points and three treys while classmate Kasey Knippen turned in a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Hopewell-Loudon sophomore post prowler MaKayla Elmore tossed in 20 points and pulled down nine boards for the Lady Chieftains (21-5).
STRYKER (50) — Haines 15; Myers 0; Cadwell 0; Stewart 16; Stuckey 2; Waterfield 0; Doriot 0; Grime 14; Blevins 0; Tingley 3. Totals 14-47 16-23 50.
ARLINGTON (69) — Crawford 2; Smith 2; Dodds 11; Willow 14; Solt 11; Sheets 2; Pepple 23; Lotz 0; Bormuth 0; Essinger 4. Totals 21-39 18-29 69.
Three-point goals: Stryker — Stewart 2, Grime 2, Haines, Tingley. Arlington — Pepple 5, Solt 2. Rebounds: Stryker 25 (Stewart 8), Arlington 33 (Dodds 5). Turnovers: Stryker 19, Arlington 20.
Stryker 16 8 12 14 — 50
Arlington 22 18 14 15 — 69
HOPEWELL-LOUDON (41) — Zender 7; Elmore 20; Searles 3; Kreais 4; Beidelschies 5; Fox 0; Coleman 2. Totals 13-37 10-14 41.
OTTOVILLE (47) — Thomas 3; Honigford 0; Hanneman 6; H. Hoersten 14; Schlagbaum 5; N. Knippen 7; K. Knippen 12; K. Hoersten 0. Totals 16-41 7-10 47.
Three-point goals: Hopewell-Loudon — Elmore 2, Zender, Searles, Beidelschies. Ottoville — H. Hoersten 3, Hanneman 2, Schlagbaum, K. Knippen. Rebounds: Hopewell-Loudon 27 (Zender, Elmore 9), Ottoville 20 (K. Knippen 12). Turnovers: Hopewell-Loudon 18, Ottoville 14.
Hopewell-Loudon 6 10 8 17 — 41
Ottoville 14 7 15 11 — 47