By CHUCK RIDENOUR
Daily Globe Sports Editor
A share of the Northern Ohio League girls basketball championship will be on the line when Shelby entertains Bellevue Saturday afternoon in the final game of the regular season.
With a 44-38 win over Ontario Tuesday night, Willard wrapped up league play with a 9-3 record and clinched a piece of the title pie.
Going into the final afternoon, the trio of Shelby, Bellevue and Norwalk are all tied at 8-3. The latter hosts Ontario Saturday.
“It’s a big game,” said Lady Whippet coach Natalie Lantz. “Every game is, but this one has a NOL title riding on it which was our top goal this season.”
SHS and the Lady Red were co-champions in the conference during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns. BHS is the five-time defending league champion.
Shelby and Bellevue both enter the game at 16-5 on the season.
“It’s a tough league and district this year, but we’re ready to control our destiny,” said Lantz.
A little less than a month ago - Jan. 16 to be exact - controlling their own destiny didn’t seem possible when the Whippets were a 48-42 loser to Willard.
That culminated a stretch that began on Dec. 23 where SHS went 1-3 in the NOL. In there were also losses to Norwalk and Bellevue as the red and gray slipped to 4-3 in the conference and trailed by two games with five remaining.
The setback to the Lady Red was particularly brutal when Shelby was handed a 68-38 defeat. The 30-point verdict was their most lopsided of the winter.
Since falling to the Flashes, the Whippets have reeled off four consecutive NOL wins. Last Saturday’s 75-68 high-scoring duel over Norwalk, coupled with Bellevue’s 52-38 loss to Willard on the same afternoon, created the four-team logjam at the top of the league standings entering the final week of the regular season.
Overall, SHS is riding a five-game winning streak, including Tuesday’s 56-47 win over Sandusky.
Lantz feels her club was able to climb back into the conference chase because they were doing a better job of executing and communicating on both ends of the floor.
The red and gray also got a boost with the return of senior Maggie King, who missed until the middle of January as she worked her way back from knee surgery.
“Over the past month our girls have done a better job of trusting themselves and each other on the court, especially on the defensive end. We’ve had a very balanced attack offensively and many players contributing on rebounds, assists and steals,” said Lantz.
The Whippets’ balance features four players - all juniors - averaging between 9.8 and 13.3 points a game. Kenna Goth leads the team in scoring and followed by Jackie Garrett (11.2), Maddi Fidler (10.0) and Sienna King (9.8). The latter two top the team in rebounding at 8.1 and 6.1, respectively. Garrett paces the NOL in assists with 4.5 a game and Goth is No. 2 in steals at 3.8.
Key for SHS is containing Bellevue’s Jenna Strayer and Payton Vogel. Strayer scores at a 15.3 clip and Vogel averages 9.5.
“Both do a nice job of attacking the basket for scores or kicking out for three-point shots,” said Lantz.
“This time around against Bellevue, we need to do a better job of playing our game, working together to pinch in on drives and close-outs on their shooters. Communication and rotation will be key on defense. Offensively, we need to make each possession count and work for the best shot, then be in position for rebounds,” said Lantz.
POSTSEASON NEARAfter Saturday’s game, Shelby will begin preparing for the sectional tournament. The Whippets will tangle with Lexington in the Division II clash 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Bucyrus High School.