By Timothy Kays
BRYAN: February 22, 2014 – The state ranked BBC Champion Pettisville Lady Blackbirds knew what they were up against when it came to their D-IV Sectional title game against the Stryker Lady Panthers on February 22, as did the girls in the fighting Blue and White. These two teams have spent more time battling each other for the top spot during the regular and postseasons than most other teams have had an opportunity…it’s almost like the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Obviously the top priority for the Blackbirds was to contain the damage from the big three seniors. Christie Huston plays the pivot with grace and posts ten points a game. Conner Varner is a 1,000-point career scorer, and nobody has a more quicker release on the three-ball than Connor Sullivan. The Pettisville defense did an admirable job on all three, but they were still in for the fight of their lives.
Seems as though nobody had the name of Lady Panther senior Ashley Haines down on the defensive to-do list.
Although she has not hoisted the long ball as much on the Varsity squad as she had done in her younger days, she has always been the silent but proven threat. Against Pettisville, she broke her silence and loudly announced that there was more than just three missile launchers on her team. Haines rained down a game-high five trifectas and a team-high 15 points, but Pettisville point guard Mikala Avina had a career-type night, ringing up a game-high 23 points and orchestrating the Ladybird offense back from a double-digit deficit to a 45-41 win to take the Sectional gold.
Anyone who knows anything about Stryker and Pettisville knows that the common thread between the two teams is excellence in pressuring, turnover creating defense. Although neither team was able to create the turnovers, the defense was still powerful, and in the offing it was the Lady Panthers who were able to get the upper hand with a 10-8 first period run. Stryker was able to press their advantage further thanks to Haines work from beyond the arch, giving them a 27-19 lead at the intermission. The wheels came off for Stryker in the second half though, and part of that scenario was a third period stunner.
The Lady Blackbirds had whittled the deficit down to just four points at 30-26 with 3:48 remaining in the third when disaster struck Stryker. Huston was on her way up for a shot from the left side of the interior when she was fouled hard and went down, injuring her left knee. Silence fell over the crowd as Huston was attended to by the Stryker staff, before she was eventually helped onto one foot and to the sideline. Her night was done, and her absence in the middle and on the scoreboard was something that the Lady Panthers could not replace.
With the game hanging in the balance in the fourth, the Lady Blackbirds made the most of their opportunities, hitting on 65 percent of their free throws. As the Stryker lead disappeared, they had ample opportunities to either tie or retake the lead at the line, but for the first time in many a moon, this fundamental failed Stryker, they only had a dozen opportunities at the stripe on the evening, but hit on just five…leaving seven points behind. Pettisville used their free throw opportunities late to ice the game.
Pettisville Head Coach Jason Waldvogel had high praise for his point guard, Avina, but he also alluded to the fact that the team was well aware of the war that they were walking into. “It was a great win for us,” he said; “we knew Stryker would come at us hard.”
Following Avina’s 23 in the books for the Ladybirds was Dana Fricke with 13 points, Lauren Hostetler with 5, and Audra Klopfenstein with 4.
The loss ends the storied Lady Panther careers of Natasha Pegorch, Varner, Haines, Sullivan and Huston, a fact not lost on an emotional Coach Steve Brown as he fought back tears talking about his senior staff. “I can’t say enough about those five kids that are walking out of that locker room,” he said. “Those kids have been an unbelievable group. Christie Huston has come so far from her freshman year. Ashley Haines battled back from a knee injury…and she was huge tonight. Conner Varner is one of the most determined kids that we’ve ever had, the way she plays and carries herself. Natasha Pegorch is a quality kid who came and talked with me about not playing this year. She’s as much a big part of this team as anybody else. And Connor Sullivan…we brought Connor Sullivan up as a freshman along with Conner Varner, and they grew together over the years. We’ve just got great kids.”
Sullivan followed Haines’ exploits with 11 points, while Varner finished with 9, and Huston and Maddie Uribes each had 3.
Pettisville will take on Ayersville in the opening round of District play in Archbold on February 27.
SCORING BY QUARTER:
Pettisville 8 11 9 17 – 45
Stryker 10 17 5 9 – 41
Timothy Kays can be reached at email@example.com