NORWALK — A five-word cliché from Wadsworth center Madison Gilger summarized everything.
“It’s hard to teach size,” she said.
All the planning in the world couldn’t overcome Toledo Notre Dame Academy’s massive frontcourt Saturday in a Division I regional championship, where the Eagles came away with a 51-42 decision.
Notre Dame (24-3), which defeated the Grizzlies (26-2) for the third straight season, advances to face Cincinnati Princeton (26-2) in the state semifinals Friday.
“You keep fighting and fighting and fighting, and it’s like swimming upstream a little bit against a team as good as they are,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said. “There were some instances during that game that we had our chances, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
Six-foot-2 center Kaayla McIntyre (18 points, 9 rebounds), 6-2 small forward Tierra Floyd (14, 6) and 6-0 power forward Jayda Worthy (13, 9) combined to score 45 of the Eagles’ 51 points and grab 24 of their 28 rebounds.
The athletic and muscular three-headed monster also scored all 24 of its team’s second-half points, highlighted by a game-changing 13-6 advantage with Wadsworth’s emotional leader and top post defender Peyton Booth (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) on the bench in foul trouble.
Notre Dame only won the rebounding battle 28-24, but scored off nearly all eight of its offensive boards.
“As much as we want to (be tall), we have one girl maybe 6-foot and everyone else is 5-9, 5-10,” said the generously listed 5-10 Gilger, who had a team-high-tying seven rebounds. “We can’t practice against that. You can only practice against yourselves.
“We’ve all wanted this since we were little girls, so we laid it all on the line. It didn’t fall our way, but we did our best.”
Wadsworth trailed just 27-26 with 6:01 left in the third quarter when Booth picked up her fourth foul. The Grizzlies kept things reasonable the rest of the period, but a putback by McIntyre and an inside score by Worthy made it 40-32 when Booth returned at the 6:17 mark of the fourth.
With their ability to play smashmouth basketball taken away, the Grizzlies made 5-of-25 shots in the second half. They also made 4-of-19 3-pointers and 8-of-16 free throws overall.
“Our guards did a great job of being patient and not settling for shots (Wadsworth) wanted us to take,” Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway said. “Our post players, especially in the second half, did a much better job of working to get open and finishing inside.”
Wadsworth made its last stand when long-range specialist Olivia Thompson (8 points) drilled a top-of-the-arc 3-pointer to make it 45-40. The Grizzlies then got a steal seconds later — one of just nine Notre Dame turnovers — only to have Taylor Wyatt narrowly miss a good look at a three.
Worthy bricked the front end of a one-and-one to keep the potential miraculous comeback alive, but Wadsworth’s Jodi Johnson (8 points) was stuffed by Worthy with 1:10 to go.
Notre Dame then made 6-of-8 free throws to make the final score a bit misleading.
“We made one final run in the fourth quarter, but that’s a heck of a talented team,” Andrew Booth said.
Led by power forward Laurel Palitto (4 points, 7 rebounds), Gilger and Booth, the Grizzlies made 10-of-21 field goals en route to trailing just 27-24 at halftime.
The only times Notre Dame showed a perimeter game, though, kept Wadsworth from taking the lead. While McIntyre and Worthy scored 14 first-half points in the paint, freshman shooting guard Mariah Copeland and Floyd drilled open yet still clutch 3-pointers in the second quarter.
All three scores came on rare defensive breakdowns by Wadsworth.
“They have two 3-point shooters, and we lost them three times — two for Copeland and one here in the corner with Floyd,” Andrew Booth said. “They were wide open. We can’t give those looks up.”
Peyton Booth then picked up her third foul as slightly out-of-control Worthy attempted to power through two defenders at the rim just 16 seconds into the second half.
When Booth picked up her fourth infraction 1:43 later, the Grizzlies showed their only lack of composure by quick-triggering shots early in possessions.
That allowed Notre Dame to pull away.
“With her out, we only scored eight (points),” Andrew Booth said. “I was tempting to put her back in there with a couple minutes left in the third, but I felt we were hanging around a little bit and keeping it close.
“Defensively, we were OK, but offensively, that was a time when we could have made a run. It just didn’t happen.”
Peyton Booth fouled out with 18.3 seconds left and received a standing ovation from the large Wadsworth crowd.
• The Grizzlies were 26-2, 25-3, 22-4 and 20-5 with Booth in the lineup. Her 107 games are the most by a Medina County player — boy or girl.
• Wadsworth officially broke a county record with a 31.3 defensive scoring average. The previous standard was set by Medina in 1979-80 (33.2).
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.