The sixth-ranked Waite Indians were one point ahead of Sylvania Northview entering the fourth quarter of a district final tournament game.
The Waite-Northview match-up pitted the City League champion against the Northern Lakes League champion, which are coached by Eastwood graduate Jerry Sigler. It pitted Waite’s Florida State-bound 6-foot-3 center Natasha Howard against 6-1 Eastern Michigan-bound Olivia Fouty.
The first three quarters, Northview was keeping up with Waite’s fast and furious pace, and was scoring just as quickly as the Indians. Entering the final stanza, each team had already committed 16 turnovers.
“I think the key point with us running up and down the floor we like that, we had 20 turnovers,” Waite coach Manny May said. “We cannot have turnovers like that, or we are going to have to go back to school.”
Yet, May seemed to remain calm along the sidelines through the first 24 minutes of a fast paced and ruggedly contested game at Central Catholic’s Sullivan Center.
“He knows what we are capable of doing. He knows once we settle down we will be able to come out and execute like we know how to do,” Waite junior guard Brooke Hunt said.
Coach May put it like this, “I have complete confidence in everything they do because they’ve been together for the last three or four years and I know they can do the job. Their dream is to get to the big dance.”
In the fourth quarter, Waite’s full court pressure zone defense forced six Northview turnovers and the Indians outscored the Lady Kats, 18-7, to win, 58-46.
“I think we kind of underestimated them a little bit and they slapped us in the face,” Hunt said. “But, it was a wake-up call and they are not going to give up just because we are Waite. We’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game as well.”
Long-time Waite assistant coach Jim Stover said he was never worried. He had seen May deal with this type of situation before.
“That’s why this team is 19-2,” Stover said.
Waite advanced into Saturday’s district final against Start at Perrysburg. The Spartans defeated Southview 61-52 at Clay’s Harold Potter Field House Thursday night.
Getting past Start will have meant a regional tournament berth, and then the Indians are two games closer to their dream. The Indians had defeated Start twice prior to last Saturday, and hopefully by the time this is being read the third time has been a charm for Waite.
“As long as we keep pushing, we can make it to states. We’ve just got to keep working hard,” Hunt said.
Howard, the daughter of former University of Toledo basketball player Maurice “Mo” Howard, said she is putting her faith in this team.
“I think this team can go all the way to Columbus this year. This is my last year. I’m a senior. I’m not going to go down with a loss like last year, so I’m going to put the team on my shoulders and take them all the way,” Howard said.
Of course, none of this means much of anything if Waite did not get past Start on Saturday.
Natasha led the City League in scoring (24.7 points) and was third in rebounding (11.1). She had 26 points and 10 rebounds Thursday night, but she was even more proud of the way her teammates played in the victory over Northview.
“Everybody stepped up like they’re supposed to. Like I told them, ‘I’m not about to go down,’ so all of them stepped up and played our game,” Howard said.
May said, “You had (senior guard) Mariah (Haynes) making some great moves on baseline, then you had (sophomore forward) Shanice (McNeal) coming in here and we got (Northview junior center Valerie) Sohasky in foul trouble. And, Natasha is just Natasha, that’s just bottom line. Brooke finally woke up and finally did a little driving against the zone.”
McNeal averaged 13.4 points and 9.1 rebounds during the regular season. Haynes was the only other player averaging double figures in scoring at 10.5 points.
Meanwhile, Fouty scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Waite. Howard said she learned from the match-up.
“She’s a real good player and I’m a good player. She plays just like me and I play just like her,” Howard said. “It was a good match-up between her and me. We battled all the way up until the fourth quarter.”
Waite found themselves switching defenses, and it finally was the zone press that seemed to get results.
“Really the zone worked, basically, where they couldn’t get the ball inside,” Howard said. “They couldn’t get a shot from outside, so we just had to focus on our zone like we did in the fourth quarter.”
Hunt added, “It was just us focusing on executing the defense right. Any of our defenses could have worked if we worked hard at it and executed it right, and once we got into the fourth quarter it showed.”
Coach May said his team always switches up defenses, so the different looks was nothing new.
“We always have different defenses at different points, so that wasn’t a factor at that point. That was us just being us,” May said.