NORTH ROYALTON — Here we go again: Wadsworth vs. Toledo Notre Dame, Part III, in the Division I regional finals.
The first two meetings resulted in four-point Eagles victories, and the Grizzlies wanted another shot from the start of the season.
Ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press state poll, Wadsworth will get that highly anticipated rematch after disposing of No. 8 Berea-Midpark 51-44 Tuesday in a regional semifinal.
“I think we wanted to play Toledo Notre Dame because we’re so sick of losing to them,” Grizzlies senior Peyton Booth said. “We want this, and we want to get to state. It would be that much sweeter if we could beat Toledo Notre Dame.”
Wadsworth (26-1), which tied its 1997 state championship team for most victories in Medina County history, used a tremendous performance from New Hampshire recruit Booth to take down the Meteors (23-3) and 6-foot-3 Pittsburgh center commit Stasha Carey.
A 5-10 guard/forward/whatever-her-team-needs-her-to-be, Booth finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks. She was instrumental in a game-changing 11-0 run to begin the third quarter with seven points, three rebounds and an emphatic block of a Zorrane Host 3-point attempt, then calmed Wadsworth midway through the fourth when Berea-Midpark made its last stand.
Booth was even better defensively, as she teamed with 5-11 center Madison Gilger (12 points, 6 rebounds) and outstanding perimeter pressure from Mercyhurst recruit Hannah Centea to hold Carey without a shot attempt until 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
“I really wasn’t thinking about (offense) at all, honestly,” Booth said. “The whole game was thinking defense — stop Carey, stop Carey, get a stop, get the rebound. The offense just came with it, and I was fortunate enough to score when I did.
“She’s our leader,” Centea added. “Without her, we can’t do anything.”
Gilger and Booth combined to make 11-of-12 shots, but the six other players were 7-for-26. Sophomore small forward Jodi Johnson scored eight of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, while backup gunners Olivia Thompson and Taylor Wyatt hit key 3-pointers to hold momentum.
Wadsworth finished with an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers — many were unforced — including six in the fourth quarter allowing the Titans to cut a 14-point hole to eight on two occasions.
The Grizzlies stemmed the tide because Johnson made enough free throws, leading to Berea-Midpark’s Kyla Paster, who scored 15 of her game-high 17 points in the period, to drill consecutive 3-pointers — the second was a half-courter at the buzzer — and make the final score misleading.
“(Berea-Midpark is) a good team, and they were going to make their runs,” Centea said. “We just had to limit their runs and keep ours going.”
Wadsworth’s defensive game plan worked from the start. Berea-Midpark’s offense was based heavily on elbow-extended pick-and-rolls with Carey and point guard Jess Barnes (8 points on 3-for-9 shooting, 2 assists), but the Grizzlies countered by fighting through the screens while sending backside defenders to Carey’s side of the court.
The adjustments frustrated Carey, who picked up her second foul with 4:45 left in the first qurter. She then got her third with 4:40 remaining in the half after Centea slid over and took a textbook charge as Carey caught the ball moving toward the basket.
Carey was without a shot attempt until hitting an elbow jumper in the third that made the score 35-23 Wadsworth. She finished with six points, seven rebounds, three blocks and a game-high six turnovers, with most of the positive statistics occurring in the fourth quarter.
“I’ll tell you what, the kids did a great job of following the game plan,” Grizzlies coach Andrew Booth said. “You’re starting with big No. 35 (Carey), then you work your way out with Jess Barnes — we did a good job on her — and then the goal is to not allow (Becca) Ziska (0 points on 0-for-1 shooting) to get any threes.
“Defensively, we were just great. We’ve been good all year, especially in the half court.”
The Grizzlies, who won the middle quarters 28-13, led 33-14 after Johnson’s first field goal midway through the third. They appeared to be control with a 38-23 advantage heading into the fourth, but lost moxie when Booth picked up her fourth foul.
Berea-Midpark made its move with Wadsworth’s emotional leader on the bench, as Paster went off with nine points during a 15-8 Titans run that made it 46-38 with 2:01 left.
That was all Berea-Midpark had left in the tank, though, as Johnson made 5-of-6 free throws and Centea and Gilger came up with key clock-chewing offensive rebounds down the stretch.
“It was hard work and determination,” Centea said. “We knew our personnel, and we came out wanting to win this.”
Wadsworth will be considered an underdog against Notre Dame, which led Magnificat 40-10 at halftime en route to a 19-point victory in the other semifinal.
The Eagles feature big-time D-I recruit Tierra Floyd, a versatile 6-2 small forward, and two other 6-footers in posts Jayda Worthy and Kaayla McIntyre.
Then again, Wadsworth won’t be intimidated when the opening tip takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday inside Norwalk High.
Shutting down arguably the best center in Ohio proves just that.
“I think it’s our turn now,” Centea said. “That’s all I have to say.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.