By Dan Woodlock
Times-Junction Sports Editor
Willard’s offense went from being their worst defense to their best defense in Thursday night’s non-league girls basketball match-up at Ashland.
Turnovers and a disoriented start fueled a huge Lady Arrows’ run to open the contest. But once the Lady Flashes were able to get things under control offensively, they turned the tide and never looked back in a 62-48 victory.
Ashland forced nine first quarter turnovers and raced up and down the floor for a 21-9 advantage--a lead that extended to 23-9 in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Alyssa Steury converted seven first quarter points and Tylah Cline added six, before leaving the game after hitting the floor hard while being fouled on a loose ball scramble. She did not return, finishing with eight points and three steals.
The Lady Arrows (8-7) committed just three first period turnovers and finished off as many baskets (10) as Willard had shot attempts (10).
“We knew they were going to come out aggressively and be physical,” said Willard Head Coach Jon Dawson. “Not only is it hard to simulate that in practice, but we’ve been working on a little bit of a messed up schedule this past week. We didn’t take good care of the ball at all to start the game, but after that first five minutes or so, we seemed to settle down.”
The Lady Flashes nearly pulled off a complete 180-turnaround in the second quarter, beginning and ending with protecting the basketball on the offensive end.
Willard (9-3) committed just two turnovers in the quarter, and only one over the first six-plus minutes of action. Ashland suddenly had the brakes put on their offensive run-outs, while the WHS efficiency on the offensive end picked up. The Lady Flashes put together an 18-2 run over a stretch of five minutes and 43 seconds to claim their first lead of the night (27-25), courtesy of a three-point field goal by Madie Secor, who led four WHS players in double figures with 18 points.
Kylie Radebaugh, who would later become just the third player in Ashland girls basketball history to reach the 1,000-point mark, hit 4-of-4 free throws in the final 1:43 of the half to help send the Lady Arrows into the locker room with a 31-29 edge. But the 20-10 quarter advantage for Willard had them in position to make their move in the second half.
“These kids have been there before,” noted Dawson. “We’ve faced some early deficits before. Honestly, I wasn’t as concerned about the score as I was in how we were playing at that time. To their credit, the kids didn’t panic and once we started taking better care of the ball, we were able to get ourselves back into the game.”
Secor tallied 11 of her points in the first half and she made a spirited run toward triple-double territory, coming up just short with game-highs of seven assists and eight steals. Her scoring effort also topped all players on the night.
A jumper by Cassie Crawford, who added 13 points and a game-best 12 rebounds and five blocks, forged the first of five ties over the opening 4:54 of play in the third quarter. Lydia Wiers (12 points, eight rebounds) followed Crawford’s score with a stick-back basket for a brief 33-31 edge, as the two teams would exchange baskets over the next eight scores in the period.
After a relatively quiet first half by Radebaugh (six points and just two field goal attempts), she tallied eight over the final two quarters, including an offensive rebound bucket with 3:06 to play in the third hat not only tied the game at 39, but also put her into the 1,000-point club, joining Lady Arrow standouts, Taylor Rogers and Alexis Stoops.
Ironically, the stoppage in play to honor Radebaugh was followed by a stoppage in offense for Ashland, courtesy of the WHS defense, which blanked the Lady Arrows over the remainder of the period.
Willard reclaimed the lead, 42-39, 23 seconds after Radebaugh’s milestone bucket on a three by Secor (who hit 4-of-7 from behind the arc) and extended to a 44-39 advantage on the first field goal of the night for Kaiten Weiss. They carried that lead into the fourth and never allowed AHS to draw any closer than four--outscoring them, 18-9.
After yielding 21 points on 10-of-17 shooting in the first quarter, the Lady Flashes’ defense surrendered just 27 points on 10-of-42 shooting over the final three periods combined.
Presley Feltner was also big on both ends of the floor for Willard, as the freshman post collected 13 points (on 5-of-7 shooting from the field), to go along with six rebounds and three of the team’s nine blocked shots.
The win marked the Lady Flashes’ first stiff test since their 80-27 road loss at state-ranked Newark December 27. Their previous three contests, all WHS wins against Vermilion, Huron and Edison, produced an average scoring differential of 71-26 between them.
“It’s definitely been a concern for us right now,” said Dawson. “Our last three games before tonight were all blow-out wins. The challenge now is for our kids to focus on maintaining the level and standard that we play with. We hadn’t been tested in a few weeks, so it was nice to see these kids respond tonight.”
Steury finished with nine points, three assists and three steals for Ashland. Kaylee Friesen, who topped the Lady Arrows’ junior varsity with 17 points in a 65-43 Willard win, contributed seven points in the varsity game.
The Lady Flashes put three players in double figures in the jayvee game, including Haylie Hamons, who nearly had a double-double, with 14 points and nine rebounds, to go along with four assists and five steals.
Kalli Sowers also netted 14 points and had five assists and four steals. Mckenna Stephens tacked on 13 points, while Tristin Buurma added eight points, six rebounds and five steals. Willard came up with 28 steals and forced 42 turnovers to improve to 10-2.