Van Wert’s Erin Morrow (24) knifes to the basket during the Lady Cougars’ 29-26 loss to Napoleon in the Division II girls sectional finals in Hicksville on Saturday night. Morrow was held to a mere two points in the loss. (Times Bulletin/Jan Dunlap)
By Jim Cox
Times Bulletin Correspondent
HICKSVILLE — For the second straight year, the Van Wert offense came to a screeching halt against underdog Napoleon in the Division II sectional final on Saturday night. This time, however, there would be no game-ending escape as the Lady Cougars fell 29-26. Van Wert’s finest season ever ends at 18-5, while the Lady Wildcats advance with an 8-15 record.
The Cougars won last year’s controversial defensive tussle 29-28 when a Van Wert foul was ruled to have occurred a split-second after the final buzzer. This time there would be no such controversy.
As it is with many defensive tussles, the free throw line was the decider. Napoleon hit 71 percent (12-for-17) from the stripe, Van Wert only 37 percent (7-for-19).
Napoleon led 18-15 at the half. That was followed by a mind-numbing 2-2 third quarter, which left the Lady Cats ahead by three, 20-17, going into the final period. Cougar super-sub Cheyenne Handy then converted a Napoleon turnover into a traditional three-point play to tie it at 20.
The Wildcats’ Mackenzie Chamberlain then banked in a straightaway ten-footer to get the lead back, and the lead then stayed with Napoleon, though barely.
Napoleon’s Alexa Sonnenberg swished two free throws to increase the margin to 24-20 at the 3:35 mark. Cougar post Alexis Dowdy, who returned to the lineup after a three-week absence due to a leg injury, squirmed inside to close the gap to two. Napoleon, however, then played keep-away until Courtney Smith was fouled and made both freebies, making it 26-22, Cats, at 1:12.
Dowdy muscled in an eight-foot baseline shot, was fouled, and made the and-one to bring Van Wert to within one at 26-25 with 1:02 left. The Cougars quickly fouled Sonnenberg, and she again cashed in both foul shots. Dowdy was fouled while attempting to catch a pass, and she split the pair at the line to make it 28-26 with 0:52 on the clock.
Sonnenberg again went to the line, this time hitting only the second of two double-bonus free throws, making it 29-26 at 0:51. Following a Cougar miss, Sonnenberg again was fouled at 0:18, and this time she left the door open by missing both shots. Napoleon rebounded the second miss, but turned it over. After a Van Wert timeout, the Cougars’ last shot was blocked, putting an end to a fine season.
“It was both (Napoleon defense and Van Wert offense),” said Van Wert coach Lance Moonshower. “Anytime you shoot 25 percent from the field, that’s the other team — a lot. The biggest thing with us is we didn’t move the ball, we didn’t get good shots. We worked against the zone all week, moved the ball pretty well, got over here, got a little stagnant…and we shot 7 of 19 from the line; that’s the entire ballgame right there.”
The first quarter provided an omen of a long night for the Cougars. It started with turnovers on the first two Van Wert possessions and ended when Lady Wildcat Beth Homan accidentally banked in a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the left wing. In between, the Cougars misfired on all four of their free throw attempts. It was 8-4, Napoleon, after one.
It got slightly better for the scarlet-and-gray in the second quarter. A Handy 3-pointer (the only one in the game for Van Wert), followed by an old-style Alexa Dunlap three-point play, tied it at 10-10 at 5:23. Dowdy later powered inside for a layup that gave Van Wert its first and only lead of the game, 13-12, with 2:09 on the clock.
While both teams shot a so-so 38 percent from the field in the first half, it got a lot worse during the second 16 minutes. There was only one field goal made in the third quarter, with the Cougars going 1-for-10, the Wildcats 1-for-5. In the final stanza Napoleon’s game of keep-away resulted in only two field goal tries, one good, while Van Wert was 3-for-11.
For the entire game, the Cougs shot an icy 26 percent (9-for-34) from the field while the Lady Cats shot 30 percent (7-of-23). Napoleon won the boards 23-18, but Van Wert had fewer turnovers, 11-17. The Cougars had only two miscues in the second half.
“Our defense was fine,” said Moonshower. “You hold somebody to 29 points, you’d better win a lot of games. I don’t know what it is. We don’t play well over here. We tried a lot of different things. We just didn’t seem to have it tonight.”
Dowdy and Handy led the Van Wert scoring with 12 and 8. Sonnenberg and Chamberlain had 10 and 7 for Napoleon.
Van Wert was without the services of two major contributors, Riley Jones (ACL tear) and Claire Butler (flu).
It was the end of the high school careers of six Cougar seniors — Kaitlynn Hall, Hannah Hulbert (who missed nearly the entire season with an ACL tear), Emilie Moonshower, Butler, Handy, and Jenna Weigle.
“It’s really tough when you’ve got six seniors,” added Coach Moonshower. “There’s no consolation for them. There’s nothing you can say.”
“This doesn’t take anything away from our season. The tournament trail is a whole new ballgame. If we wanna go to that next level, from a good team to a great team, we gotta remember how this feels. Our underclassmen have to take it to heart when we say every game in the tournament is important.”
Score by quarters
Napoleon 8 10 2 9- 29
Van Wert 4 11 2 9- 26
Homan 4, Smith 4, Sonnenberg 10, Kruse 1, Ferguson 0, Rausch 3, Chamberlain 7
Van Wert (26)
Hall 0, Dowdy 12, Dunlap 4, Morrow 2, Weigle 0, Moonshower 0, Handy 8, Bair 0, Kohn 0