Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Tournament seeds have been revealed, brackets have been released and the best part of the season, in our opinion, is upon us.
A loss means the end of the road while a win means moving on. This is where we’ve seen average teams become great. It’s where great players make a name for themselves. It’s where pressure can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
But most of all, it’s where legendary stories find their origins.
Here’s a brief preview of what to look for during the most exciting part of the year.
First round games to watch
DIVISION II: No. 9 Unioto (8-11) at No. 8 Miami Trace (13-5): These two teams met on Jan. 30 and the Panthers walked away with a 57-44 win. But the game was close throughout. Unioto had a 32-29 lead at halftime before Miami Trace surrendered just 12 second half points. Gracee Stewart, Magarah Bloom and Delaney Eakins lead Miami Trace into a second battle with Avery Miller, Carissa Wheeler and Karlee Renner on Thursday. Get your popcorn ready.
DIVISION III: No. 17 West (11-6) at No. 16 Southeastern (10-9): This is a matchup that intrigues the most casual of basketball fans. 1,000 point scorer Macie Graves has yet to be stifled this season but the Senators play a stingy style of defense, led by Lexi Deaver and Emma Sayre. Graves is helped in the scoring column by Cidney Huff and Sierra Mitten while Eden Cline, Maelynn Howell and Haley Coleman can take over a game at any time. And both teams have their own x-factors in SE’s Gabby Pernell and West’s Keima Bennett.
DIVISION III: No. 23 Minford (6-15) at No. 10 Northwest (13-6): Northwest has beaten Minford twice this season … by a combined five points — 32-30 and 45-42. For whatever reason, the Falcons’ trio of Livi Shonkwiler, Ally Coriell and Kynedi Davis have given the Mohawks fits. Still, Ava Jenkins, Haidyn Wamsley, Valerie Copas and Kloe Montgomery have found a way to get the job done. But it’s hard to beat a team three times, especially a team in your league.
Assuming these area teams win their first round matchups, which is never a given in itself, McClain, Westfall and Paint Valley all have a shot at upsetting their second round opponents.
We’ve known all season just how special McClain’s senior class is. That five-player group includes Bri Weller, Kyla Burchett, Emma Stegbauer, Jaelyn Pitzer and Josie Crabtree. If you think those girls aren’t playing with a passion, think again. Then throw in Payton Pryor and Iva Easter and you’ve got enough talent to fill an all-star team. The Tigers would have to beat No. 3 seeded Circleville in a district semifinal, but it’s not out of the question by any means.
The Mustangs would likely meet with No. 6 Alexander, which will have to beat Zane Trace to get there first. But if that contest happens, keep an eye on Mahaley Farmer, Gabby Patete and Marissa Mullins. Farmer is one of the most underrated point guards in the area, Patete can score from anywhere on the court and Mullins, dare I say it, is one of the best shot blockers in the nation. If those three play well, Westfall could absolutely advance into a district semifinal.
As for Paint Valley, well, Olivia Smith … that’s really all that needs to be said. The junior has been on absolute tear in the paint this season, averaging over 12 points and 16 rebounds per game. And Abbi Stanforth, Kendall Dye and Hanna Uhrig can all score 20 points on any given night while Averi McFadden is the glue that keeps it all together. If the Bearcats can beat Manchester, they’d most likely take on No. 3 Trimble. With the way this team rebounds the basketball, if they can find different ways to score, an upset could be on the horizon.
Why not us?
That’s the rallying cry that so many teams are preaching right now.
To be a Cinderella, you have to peak at the right time, have a great coaching staff, feature at least one elite player and … as always … lady luck has to be in your corner.
Adena, Fairfield and South Webster have all of those things.
ADENA: The Warriors have hung their hats on the defensive end, a strategy that’s worked out well for them. They could potentially see matchups with Northwest, North Adams and Eastern Brown if they were to win a district title. That’s no doubt a tough road. But Jadyn Smith and Emma Garrison are two of the toughest competitors you’ll find and this team has played well enough in spurts to beat each of those teams. They’ll just have to put 32 minutes together.
FAIRFIELD: The Lions have five players who can score at will. If they’re hot, they’re dangerous. If Emma Fouch, Ella Newkirk or Peyton Magee find their stroke, you had better put two defenders there. Then, Braylynn Haines and Madison Bronner have shown the ability to score under the bucket while controlling the glass. A quest to a district title could include wins over Rock Hill, New Lexington, Wheelersburg and Fairland. Not out of the question.
SOUTH WEBSTER: All you have to do is watch Bri Claxon shoot and you know this can happen. The talented guard has feasted on defenders all year long with several 30-plus point outings. Then, of course, there’s Faith Maloney, Skylar Zimmerman, Bella Claxon and Liz Shupert to help her out. To win the district, the Jeeps may have to beat New Boston, Waterford and top-seeded Notre Dame. They played the Titans earlier this season and lost by a 54-50 final. If Claxon gets loose and Maloney plays to her potential, this group could surprise you.
Here’s the part where you find my email and send me a flurry of angered messages.
Don’t look too much into these. After all, we’re writers, not prophets.
A. Fairfield Union will win a district title: The Falcons have a ton of weapons at their disposal. So, why not? Olivia Spillers and Marisa Malone are bonafide buckets while their supporting cast can sit down and play defense. The team would have to beat Meigs, Warren and top-seeded Sheridan — if seeds were to play out. Crazier things have happened.
B. Lynchburg-Clay will beat North Adams in a Division III sectional final: If you recall, the Mustangs almost upset the Devils in their meeting on Jan. 27. North Adams escaped with a 40-37 win that night. Sierra Benney, Macy Etienne and Jade Massey have been on an upswing recently while the Devils have dropped decisions to Eastern, Pebbles and Vinton County. You never know what could happen. But LC has shown it has the talent to pull an upset.
C. Notre Dame and Peebles will meet in a Division IV regional final: For this to happen, if seeds played out, Notre Dame would have to oust Fisher Catholic while the Indians would have to get by Berne Union. But if you look at either team’s resume to this point, both wins could certainly take place. Any team led by Jacey Justice and Payton Johnson can beat anybody. This group has shown that throughout the year. And you have Ava Hassel and Claire Dettwiller on the floor for the Titans. Notre Dame and Peebles have met in the tournament in each of the past three seasons. Why not make it four straight?
So, who wins district titles?
Again, we’re not prophets. And don’t bet your mortgage on these picks. But who do we THINK wins district titles? Well …
DIVISION II: No. 5 Fairfield Union and No. 2 Vinton County
DIVISION III: No. 1 Wheelersburg and No. 3 Eastern Brown
DIVISION IV: No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Peebles