St. John’s freshman Jessica Geise comes down after corralling a high pass from a teammate during the Lady Jays’ 47-36 win over Lincolnview on Tuesday night in Van Wert. Julia Thatcher of the Lancers defends on the play. Geise scored eight points for the Jays, who will face Crestview for the sectional title on Saturday. (Times Bulletin/Pat Agler)
By John Parent
Times Bulletin Sports Editor
VAN WERT — At this point in the year, it’s not about avenging earlier defeats, it’s all about extending your season. On Tuesday night in the Division IV sectional tournament at Van Wert, Delphos St. John’s was able to do both, getting a 47-36 win over Lincolnview.
The Blue Jays (7-16) will face Crestview for the sectional championship on Saturday evening. The season has come to a close for the Lady Lancers, who fall to 10-13 on the campaign.
In the first quarter, it looked like the game may be a carbon copy of the February 1 contest between the two schools; a game that Lincolnview won, 46-41. St. John’s came out on Tuesday night taking the first open look they could get, often settling for long jumpers. Though Lincolnview trailed early, the Lady Lancers scored the final four points of the period, on a Hannah McCleery offensive rebound and put-back and a fastbreak layup by Ashton Bowersock just before the close of the quarter, to take a 7-6 lead.
Bowersock scored again to open the second, but that three-point lead would be the biggest highlight for the Lancers. From that point, the Lady Jays made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to sophomore center Sydney Fischbach, and the Lancers had no answers.
Fischbach scored on back-to-back trips to reclaim the lead for the Jays, and St. John’s extended its advantage with a baseline jumper from senior Erica Saine and a put-back by Rebekah Fischer. Though McCleery was able to stop the bleeding with a drive and score with five minutes to play in the half, Fischbach took a pass inside, turned, was fouled, and hit the shot. Her three-point play made it a 17-11 Blue Jays lead.
The Jays’ margin grew to as many as nine before the period ended, but Julia Thatcher’s baseline drive cut the score to 21-14 at the half.
“We said we had to get the ball inside to either Jessica Geise or Syd Fischbach,” St. John’s coach Dan J. Grothouse explained of his team’s move to attack the interior in the second quarter. “Those outside shots were going to open up if the ball went in and came out, but the ball had to get inside first of all, before that happened. I thought Jess and Syd worked really hard in there, and I felt they gave us a boost.”
“That’s what we wanted to do; we wanted to make sure we could attack the basket and get to the line, and they executed that game plan perfectly.”
While the offensive strategy evolved to more of an interior attack for the Lady Jays, one thing that never wavered was their attacking man-to-man pressure. Lincolnview was forced into seven first-half turnovers and countless rushed shots. The Lancers went just 6-for-16 in the first half and didn’t get much better after the intermission. The Lancers wound up shooting 39 percent (14-for-36) for the game and didn’t make a single 3-pointer, missing all 11 tries from deep.
“We figured that was how it was going to be, and that’s how it was,” said Lincolnview head coach Dan Williamson of the St. John’s pressure. “We tried to prepare as best we could for it, but it’s tough to simulate the kind of pressure that they are able to put on. We never seemed like we got in sync offensively. We’d have open looks, but we’d have to rush it just a split second, and, for a jump-shooter, that affects everything you do if you have to rush.”
“We did a great job sticking them,” Grothouse explained. “The last time we played them, we gave up a lot of dribble penetration and open looks and I thought our kids did a great job (tonight) of not allowing themselves to get beat. Even if they got there, we made it a tough shot, we contested every shot.”
Fischbach continued her dominance in the third quarter, posting up and converting on each of the first two St. John’s trips to build an 11-point margin on the scoreboard. After Katlyn Wendel converted inside for the Lancers, Fischbach scored in the low post once again and, when Tara Vorst converted a three-point play at 2:21, the Jays had built their lead to 12 at 30-18.
After Geise scored on an offensive rebound and put-back to make it a 14-point spread, Lincolnview’s Stemen closed the quarter with free throws to make it 32-20 after three.
As much as the Lancer crowd urged their team forward, there was no real drama in the final stanza. Though the Lancer defense forced five St. John’s turnovers in the quarter, the Lady Jays used an 11-for-14 effort from the free throw line, including 7-for-8 by Rachel Pohlman, to sew up the win.
St. John’s committed only 11 turnovers for the game, while out-rebounding the Lancers 25-20.
“I thought we did a great job on the boards. They got one shot and we rebounded the ball really, really well,” Grothouse added. “We knew their pressure would bother us at times, but our girls did a good job of moving the ball. We didn’t settle for dribbling into the trap, we looked for the open person. I think, a lot of times, we were a little more proactive; being able to look, find the open person, and being able to attack off of that.”
The Lady Jays finished 15-for-32 (47 percent) from the floor, but 0-for-8 from 3-point range, meaning they made a remarkable 63 percent of their shots from inside the arc.
“The Fischbach girl, we just didn’t have an answer for her tonight,” Williamson noted. “We’re obviously undersized. She’s 5-foot-11, I think Julia was giving up five inches to her and she did a pretty good job guarding her inside. They (St. John’s) just did enough things well. You gotta give them credit for executing what they wanted to.”
“You look at the offensive end and the patience we had, to get get good shots in some key possessions. They did a great job of working the ball and putting the ball the ball in good positions, so we had an opportunity to score,” Grothouse continued.
Lincolnview was led by McCleery’s 11 points. Thatcher added eight and Stemen, Lincolnview’s lone senior, closed her career with six points.
“We talked about how this one is going to hurt now. It’s just human nature to think about what you did last,” Williamson said of his post-game message to his team. “Obviously, this was our last game, but I told them ‘don’t let that take away from what they accomplished this season.’ You could have asked anybody and, if they’d give you an honest answer, they’d say there’s no way we win 10 games this year. So, for them to accomplish what they did was pretty impressive.”
“I’m just happy that, especially Christine, being a senior, that she could go out with a good season. She had a very good season, individually. I’m pleased that she was able to do that.”
For St. John’s, the time to celebrate is short. A 20-1 Crestview squad awaits on Saturday and Grothouse knows his team is in for a battle.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Grothouse remarked. “In the tournament, you’re going to play good teams and Crestview is a really good basketball team. They’re well-coached. We’re going to have our hands full. We have to play extremely hard, we gotta be patient and do those same things (we did tonight). They’re a very talented group, but I’m sure our kids will be ready.”
“We’ll go out, we’ll give ‘em a fight, and we’ll see what happens.”
On the plus side for the Lady Jays, Crestview’s single loss this season came on the same court they’ll play on on Saturday; a 51-49 defeat to the Lady Cougars of Van Wert back in November. The Lady Knights have won 19 straight since that game.
Score by quarters
St. John’s 6 15 11 15- 47
Lincolnview 7 7 6 16- 36
St. John’s (47)
Vorst 5, Zuber 4, Pohlman 7, Geise 8, S. Fischbach 15, E. Fischbach 2, Saine 2, Benevidez 0, Fischer , Hays 2
Bowersock 6, Wendel 2, Thatcher 8, McCleery 11, Stemen 6, Clay 3, Gorman 0, Longwell 0