Wadsworth senior Peyton Booth was 10 seconds removed from fouling Toledo Notre Dame Academy star Tierra Floyd in the closing moments of a Division I regional championship game at Norwalk High School.
The four-year letterwinner walked to the scorers’ table instinctively after fouling out. She then turned, looked to her father, Grizzlies coach Andrew Booth, bit her lip and began to cry.
The rare standing ovation from the Wadsworth faithful was invisible to Peyton Booth in that moment. Her face, one that always had a look of focus until that moment, instead was buried in her No. 12 jersey as she sat on the bench between teammates Madison Gilger and Courtney Palange.
No girls basketball program meant more to an 18-year-old player than Wadsworth did to Booth. That made the end of her career — in the same gym, in the same game, against the same team for the third straight year — that much more painful.
The 16 days since have barely helped the healing process.
“That’s rough to think about,” she said. “It was the realization that we’re done. This is it. I’m never going to get to play for my dad again, and that was by far the hardest thing for me.
“He coached me in first grade all the way through. To think I’m never going to get to play again, it’s so hard for me. In the locker room after the game, I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened. It wasn’t reality. It’s still just as hard now as the second I fouled out.”
The physical, emotional and mental sacrifices of Booth doubled the heartbreak, but also were instrumental as to why the Grizzlies had another record-breaking season. The New Hampshire recruit did whatever it took to win without batting an eye.
Look beyond the box scores and one of the most unique players in Medina County history will be found.
That reason alone made Booth the heartbeat of the Grizzlies — as well as Gazette MVP.
“What makes her a special player is she’s the leader on the court,” senior point guard Hannah Centea said. “She always knows what’s going on.
“One word for her would probably be competitiveness. She hates to lose and she’ll do anything not to lose.”
The 5-foot-10 Booth knew what needed to be done from Day 1. Wadsworth lost four starters, including two-time Gazette MVP Rachel Goddard, and almost all of its 3-point shooting to graduation.
If the Grizzlies were going to maintain their place among Ohio’s elite, they weren’t going to do it with a high-powered offense or even with their legendary run-and-jump press.
Intangibles such as unselfishness, communication, intelligence, heart and toughness needed to be stressed more than ever. Defensive game plans became works of art, and patience fueled a powerful inside game with Booth, Jodi Johnson and Gilger.
The days of press-producing layups and chuck-and-duck 3-point offenses became less frequent. Wadsworth reinvented itself to rely on smashmouth basketball.
The results were one of the headiest teams the school has produced, which is high praise for one of the state’s winningest programs. The Grizzlies broke a Medina County record with a 31.3 defensive scoring average and tied their 1997 state championship team with 26 wins.
They also extended their SL win streak to 61 games, obtained the No. 4 ranking in the final Associated Press state poll and made a third straight appearance in the regional finals.
Booth was in the middle of the action with an all-around line of 8.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.3 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 51 percent.
“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?,” 18th-year Wadsworth assistant Tom Carnes said. “You look at the numbers and you say, ‘Oh, she’s an ordinary player,’ but I was involved with another player (Kristin Hoover) who scored less than her and dominated. She had a D-I scholarship on a three-point average. She played defense, was physically tough, mentally tough and understood the game.
“Peyton was that person.”
Being the coach’s daughter made Booth an extension of her father on the floor. Her game was like a Swiss Army knife. No tool stood above the others, but together they were immeasurably valuable.
Booth played four positions almost every game, along with being the backup center. She technically started at a wing while guarding the opposing team’s best inside scorer, but moved to power forward in certain sets and ran the point in pressure-packed situations.
Booth’s role changed on a possession-by-possession basis. A normal player would have been overwhelmed, but Booth wasn’t wired like a normal player.
“If you’re not involved in the game very much, you might not notice that,” Carnes said. “When a rebound needed to be had, Peyton got it. When somebody needed to be shut down, Peyton did it. When someone got hot and needed to shoot, Peyton got the ball in the right spot. All those intangibles that don’t appear in the stat sheet, she had them all.”
Booth also rarely faltered, especially in the biggest games.
Against Lima Bath (regional qualifier), Revere (district finalist) and Solon (regional qualifier) in the regular season, Booth had 31 points, 19 rebounds and 17 assists. She then had eight, seven and six against Lakewood in the Medina District championship before unleashing her signature performance in the regional semifinals against Berea-Midpark.
Booth finished the 51-44 victory with 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks while helping Gilger hold All-Ohio center and Pittsburgh recruit Stasha Carey scoreless through 2½ quarters. Booth also calmed the Grizzlies after the Titans made their last stand in the fourth simply with her emotional presence.
Though Wadsworth lost to Notre Dame and failed in its quest for a trip to Columbus, Booth still put up seven points, four boards and two assists while missing a large chunk of the second half in foul trouble.
She also spearheaded the last charge and found Olivia Thompson in the corner for 3-pointer that made it 45-40 before tipping a Floyd pass into the arms of teammate Taylor Wyatt for a 3-point attempt 10 seconds later.
The overlying theme: When all else failed, the Grizzlies gave the ball to Booth and made her carry the load.
“I don’t I ever go into a game thinking I have to get this many points or this many rebounds or this many assists,” she said. “It happens when it happens in the flow of the game. I don’t know. That’s how our whole team is.”
Booth finished her 107-game career among the school’s leaders in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and was a part of a whopping 93 victories.
She will never be remembered as a scorer — “I’d rather play defense than offense all day long,” she said — but as one of the most versatile players to ever don Wadsworth red and white.
The kid’s a winner, and no one can take that away from her.
“It has been the best four years of my life,” she said. “I love all those girls and all the coaches. Everything is so memorable. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for anything.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.