You have to love the single elimination format of the Ohio state high school basketball tournament.
In this "one and done" setting, a team that enters a game as a heavy underdog is afforded the opportunity to have one amazing peformance and upend its favored foe. That is exactly what happened with the Boardman girls basketball team on Saturday, Feb. 16 in Akron.
The sub .500 Lady Spartans were not supposed to put up much of a fight against the 17-win Fitch Lady Falcons. Yet, with the season on the line, the Spartans sliced up the higher-seeded Falcons 52-42 to continue on in the Division I sectionals. Boardman will next play Aurora on Thursday, Feb. 21 at Akron Ellet High School much to the delight of its head coach Jeff Hammerton.
"We are definitely happy," said Hammerton following the monumental win. "We had ended our season on a high note (beating Marlington by 21 points on the road) and this was a continuation of that momentum."
All of that momentum surely did carry into last Saturday afternoon's showdown with the Austintown girls. The Spartan ladies let it be known early that they came to the tournament with winning in mind. Boardman bounced on Fitch from the outset building a 17-8 lead after one period. Although the Falcons found some strength in the second stanza, Boardman still led at intermission 22-14. In the third period the Spartans grilled the Falcons 14-11 to take an insurmountable 11-point lead into the final period. That would be a lead they would never come close to surrendering.
Leading the way for the Lady Spartans was senior Emily Gibbs who was determined not to allow the sectional opener to be her final high school game. Gibbs got in and around the Falcons for a team-high 15 points continuing her stellar play from this entire season.
"Gibbs has been playing the last couple games like a bull," Hammerton announced. "She has been giving everything she's got because she doesn't want to play her last game."
Apparently there is another Spartan who doesn't want to see Gibbs graduate. Kelly Tomcsanyi has been doing a nice job for Boardman bombing away from the outside, but recently coach Hammerton decided to pair her in the paint with Gibbs and the results have been outstanding. Tomcsanyi toppled Fitch for 14 points last weekend.
"We made an adjustment with Kelly," Hammerton explained. "We put her back inside and have been running a high/low with Emily. That's something that has worked so we plan on doing it the rest of the tournament. The nice thing is she can still go outside and knock down a three if we need her to."
While the Spartans were shining on offense, Fitch's usually top-notch unit was floundering. Only two Falcons reached double figures in scoring and surprisingly the top point maker wasn't awesome junior Megan Sefcik. Fitch's leading scorer, who has already surpassed 1,000 points in her career, was held to just 11 points. The Spartans were able to stunt Sefcik due to some super strategy.
"We are comfortable defending Sefcik," said Hammerton. "She only had 12 points against us the first time we played. Everyone shadows her (on defense)."
Not only is Sefcik a supreme scorer for Fitch, but she has teammates who can toss in a few points as well. Coach Hammerton acknowledged that his defense did a decent job on that duo too.
"We also wanted to hold (Cassie) Custer and (Sarah) Melfe," said Hammerton. "We took away Sefcik the best we could, gave up 15 (points) to Custer, but held Melfe to seven."
The trick now for Hammerton's club is to do a similar defensive job on 15-7 Aurora. Like Fitch, the Lady Greenmen have a 1,000 point career scorer in Allison Howard, who averages 15 points per game, and another double figure scorer in Camilla Brown. Corralling that couple will be the key for the Spartans on Thursday night.
"We will need to do well against (Aurora's) two double-digit scorers," the coach insisted.
One way to do that is to make the Greenmen, who only usually play about seven ladies, work for every shot they get.
"(Aurora) is a bigger team who doesn't play many girls," Hammerton analyzed. "So we may be able to press them to make them tired."
If the Boardman girls can press their way to a victory over Aurora then they will be able to press on in the Division I tournament.