By ANDREW WILLIAMS
MOUNT BLANCHARD — Full-court pressure defense can be a great weapon to wear down an opponent and force turnovers that turn into easy baskets on the offensive end.
When both teams utilize it, though, as Elmwood and Bluffton did in a Division III sectional semifinal matchup Tuesday night at Riverdale High School, the results can make for a physically taxing game in which one team simply tries to outlast the other.
Bluffton got the final word, hitting four key free throws in the final minute, and finished the game on a 6-2 run to drop Elmwood 51-45 and advance to the sectional final Saturday at 8 p.m. against second-seeded Ottawa-Glandorf (20-2).
Upper Sandusky (14-9) topped Kenton 53-33 in the early game Tuesday night and will battle top-seeded Liberty-Benton (19-2) at 6:15 p.m. with a sectional crown on the line.
The Pirates seemed more equipped than the Royals to handle the pressure early on and ran out to a 29-21 halftime lead thanks to eight points each from Sarah Schriner and Paige Buroker.
Elmwood (16-6) ended the opening half with more turnovers (10) than made field goals (6), hitting just 25 percent (6 of 24) from the field in the first and second quarter.
“I think it had a lot to do with our press,” Bluffton coach Eric Garmatter said. “You like to think that. We tried to at least get a hand in the face and make it tough for the Curtis girl to shoot because she’s a good shooter.
“The key was just to get off to a good start, cover their shooters and stuff like that. For the most part, we wanted to try to limit them to one shot on offense. They’re a good team. We just fought and battled our way through it.”
In a game which Bluffton led wire-to-wire, Elmwood got within one point two different times in the fourth quarter, but was unable to make enough plays to overtake the Pirates.
Two free throws by Kristen Curtis, who finished with a game-high 20 points, cut the lead to 47-45 with 36.1 seconds left, but a pair of free throws each by Schriner and Andie Schmutz put the game away.
“Bottom line, they outplayed us,” Elmwood coach Doug Reynolds said. “You cannot get behind in tournament game and always play coming behind. More turnovers than field goals, it’s uncalled (for) if I have four seniors out there and a junior.
“It was a physical game. They took some rebounds away from us that you have to have. It’s tournament time and we didn’t rise to that occasion to rebound when we needed to. We kept fighting back. We either didn’t get a rebound, we gave them up an outside shot or we missed a shot inside. We missed foul shots and they hit their foul shots.”
Schriner led Bluffton with 12 points and Buroker added 11 points and seven rebounds.
In the early contest, Upper Sandusky was able to press a young Kenton team, which was without seniors Brooke Bostelman and Megan Webb due to injuries.
Despite double-double machine Taylor Graboski only recording three free throws in the first half, the Rams were still able to take a 36-28 advantage into the locker room thanks to contributions from Jenna Holly, Kalene Johnson, Emma Smith and Sierra Carey.
“Obviously, everyone knows we key on Graboski hopefully getting us started,” Upper Sandusky coach Brent Fahle said. “We had a lot of kids step up and hit shots, and I think in the last three or four games we’ve had some kids step up and hit shots. We had a lot of kids contribute and score and that’s a good thing.
“I thought our pressure affected them a little bit and we got some easy transition buckets and got us rolling a little bit. Hats off to the girls for getting the job done. I thought they did a nice job following the game plan.”
Kenton (8-15) struggled through a 28 percent (7 of 25) showing from the field and committed 12 turnovers in the first half, before finishing 40 percent (12 of 30) from the floor with 25 giveaways.
Despite the countless mishaps Kenton encountered, the Wildcats only trailed 36-28 heading into the final period.
Fueled by Graboski, who finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, Upper Sandusky closed the game on a 17-5 run to pull away and earn a spot in Saturday’s title game.
“We put a brand new offense in two days ago,” Kenton coach Ryan Miller said. “I’ve got a really young team. I only had one senior on the court because we have a lot of injuries. The girls responded slowly to that.
“If I was to take a guess, I would say we’re averaging probably 22 to 25 turnovers a game. A lot of that has to do with the style of play that we play. We play a hectic, up-tempo game. I expect it, you can’t give the other team 25, 30 looks in a game and be too successful.”
Johnson finished with 12 points and six boards for the Rams, while Ashely Morris led the Wildcats with 12 points and Chyenne Hedges grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
Ka. Wireman 3-0–6, Ke. Wireman 2-0–5, Morris 4-3–12, Hedges 2-2–6, Gier 1-2–4, Johnson 0-0–0, Moore 0-0–0, Rush 0-0–0. TOTALS: 12 7-11–33.
Upper sandusky (14-9)
Holly 2-2–6, Calvin 0-1–1, Smith 3-0–6, Johnson 4-4–12, Carey 3-0–6, Cox 1-0–2, Stover 1-1–3, Graboski 4-9–17. TOTALS: 18-46 17-22–53.
Kenton 2 15 11 5 — 33
Upper Sandusky 12 13 11 17 — 53
3-Point GOALS: Kenton 2 (Morris & Ke. Wireman); Upper Sandusky 0-4.
rebounds: Kenton 28 (Hedges 10); Upper Sandusky 28 (Graboski 14).
turnovers: Kenton 24, Upper Sandusky 10.
Schriner 5-2–12, Hunt 4-0–9, Buroker 3-2–11, Fruchey 0-0″”0, Schumtz 3-3–9, Parkins 3-0–6, Pritchard 2-0–4. TOTALS: 20-46 7-8–51.
Sears 0-0–0, Hillard 2-2–6, Curtis 7-4–20, Brashear 0-0–0, Swavel 2-1–5, Harvey 0-2–2, Emmitt 2-0–5, Ervin 3-1–7. TOTALS: 15-51 10-17–45.
Bluffton 12 17 9 13 — 51
Elmwood 9 12 16 8 — 45
3-Point GOALS: Bluffton 4-13 (Buroker 3, Hunt); Elmwood 3-12 (Curtis 2, Emmitt).
rebounds: Bluffton 29 (Buroker 7); Elmwood 25 (Hillard 7).
turnovers: Bluffton 21, Elmwood 16.
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