WHO: Wadsworth (25-2) vs. Toledo Notre Dame Academy (24-3)
WHAT: Division I regional championship
WHERE: Norwalk High School, 350 Shady Lane
TV: Wadsworth Community Television (tape delay at 10 p.m.)
NORWALK — A year’s worth of motivation has come down to 1:30 this afternoon: Wadsworth vs. Toledo Notre Dame Academy for the Norwalk Division I Regional championship.
The winner advances to face Kettering Fairmont (24-1) or Centerville (26-1) in the state semifinals at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
The Grizzlies (25-2) lost to the Eagles (24-3) 55-51 in last season’s title game after blowing a 10-point lead over the final 9 minutes. Everything Wadsworth worked for in the 364 days since has been for a chance to join the legendary 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2006 teams as Final Four participants.
There’s no looking back. It’s time to ball out or go home.
“We’re trying to focus more on the fact that this is the next step to what the goal is (a state title),” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said. “It’s two different (Notre Dame) teams, so I think right now our kids are trying to do a good job on what they bring this year, which is a lot different than last year.
“I don’t want to overplay the revenge factor. Obviously, it would be great, but that’s not playing into our motivation techniques.”
Dynamic point guard Cat Wells is now at Winthrop University after being released from Toledo for violating team policy, and this year’s Notre Dame team has adjusted with three scorers between 10 and 14 points per game. The Eagles also changed philosophies, emphasizing patience with three 6-footers at their disposal instead of pushing the tempo to the max.
Six-foot guard Tierra Floyd is regarded as one of the top sophomores in the Ohio. The ESPN.com four-star recruit was named first-team All-Northwest District this week after averaging 10.9 points during the regular season. Sophomore forward Kaayla McIntyre (6-0, 12.6 ppg) was a second-team choice, while 5-11 junior and leading scorer Jayda Worthy (13.5), the lone returnee from last year’s matchup, was third team.
While Floyd, McIntyre and Worthy are clearly the Eagles’ “Big Three,” guard Christy Ohlinger (6-0, Sr.) must be accounted for as well after scoring a season-high 19 points in a 49-43 district semifinal win over Sylvania Southview.
“They’re way more inside-oriented this year,” Booth said. “They’ve got three kids who can post you up and are a force on the block.
“That’s why their scores are so low. They are going to be patient and wait for the opportunity to pound you inside.”
Notre Dame’s losses are to Gahanna Lincoln (46-30), Lewis Center Olentangy (37-36) and Toledo Rogers (52-44). Olentangy defeated Lincoln in Tuesday’s Sweet 16, while Rogers lost to Clyde on Friday in the D-II regional finals.
The Eagles upended Perrysburg, ranked eighth in the AP poll, 41-30 on Tuesday to reach this point.
No. 6 Wadsworth struggled to score early in its regional semifinal against Magnificat, but eventually used its transition game to spark a game-deciding 18-0 run in a convincing 46-27 triumph.
Much like they were in regular-season losses to Twinsburg and Kettering Fairmont, the Grizzlies will be undersized against Notre Dame, thus making ball pressure and rebounding critical against an opponent who prefers to play in the half court.
“If we let them get open looks into the post, we don’t have a chance,” Booth said. “(Our emphasis is) defense in the half court in terms of pressuring the ball and pressuring the passer. Maybe that can help us out because the facts are the facts — we don’t have any 6-footers to match up with those kids.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.