Orange primed for state semifinal
One of the must-see events of the Division I state girls basketball tournament should occur at 6 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Ohio State.
That's when Olentangy Orange High School senior Taylor Agler will face Twinsburg senior Ashley Morrissette in a meeting of future Big Ten Conference point guards.
Agler is an Indiana University signee and second-team all-state honoree who has her team in its first state tournament, while Morrissette, the state's Player of the Year, has committed to Purdue and will be attempting to lead her squad to a third consecutive state championship.
The Orange-Twinsburg semifinal winner will play Kettering Fairmont or Toledo Notre Dame Academy for the title at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Ohio State.
"Them having a point guard who's going to Purdue and us having Agler, who's going to Indiana, that's going to be a great matchup," coach Mary Ann Grimes said. "I think our post play against their post play -- that might be the most critical part of the game."
While Agler averages 15.6 points and Morrissette averages 19.1, Orange junior Sarah Sagerer and Twinsburg senior Char'Dell Dunnigan are 6-foot-2 post players who will match up as well. Sagerer averages 9.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
The Pioneers enter the state tournament at 26-2 after beating Gahanna 63-52 in overtime March 5 in a regional semifinal and defeating North Canton Hoover 61-55 on March 8 for the regional championship in games at Otterbein University.
Twinsburg is 28-0 after defeating Middleburg Heights Midpark 68-37 on March 5 and Solon 44-41 on March 8 in regional games.
Last season, Twinsburg beat Reynoldsburg 49-41 in a state semifinal and Fairmont 57-51 for the title. The Tigers have won 42 consecutive games.
Other key players for Twinsburg, which has gone 103-5 in five seasons under coach Julie Solis, include senior guard Brooke Smith (14 points per game) and junior guard Baleigh Reid (11 ppg). Smith has committed to Cleveland State and Dunnigan will play at George Mason.
Orange's second-leading scorer is senior forward Mya Walker (15.1 ppg), followed by senior guards Maddy Joseph (8.5 ppg, 3 assists) and Kierstynn Myers (7.9 ppg).
"We're going to have to defend the (3-point shot) because they can shoot it better than any team I've seen this year," Solis, the state's co-Coach of the Year, said of the Pioneers. "I think transition, getting up and down the floor, is going to be another key. Orange is a great basketball team. When you look at their starting five, there's not a weak link in it."
Fairmont is making its fourth consecutive state tournament appearance. The Firebirds are 25-1 and feature junior post players Kathryn Westbeld (15 ppg) and Makayla Waterman (15 ppg) and senior guard Chelsea Welch (14 ppg). Senior guard/forward Alona Skipper is another key returnee from the team that beat Notre Dame Academy 54-45 in a state semifinal last season before falling to Twinsburg.
Welch has committed to Duquesne.
Notre Dame Academy is 25-3 despite starting three sophomores. Junior forward Jayda Worthy (12.1 ppg), sophomore guard Tierra Floyd (11.2 ppg) and sophomore forward Kaayla McIntyre (10.8 ppg) are the top players. Last season marked its first appearance in the state tournament.
"There's been a lot of pressure on these girls and they've been together for a long time," Grimes said. "This is the pinnacle for this group. We just try to do the best we can and say that the sun will always come up the next morning. We have to try to not get too high or too low."
There was plenty of emotion for Orange after it edged Hoover to win its first regional championship.
Agler got into foul trouble during the second half but scored 18 of her game-high 25 points in the first half and also contributed seven assists.
She found Walker open on the baseline with 1 minute, 15 seconds to go and Walker hit the shot for a 56-51 lead. Myers and Joseph each hit two free throws and Sagerer made one of two during the final 38 seconds to seal the win.
Joseph had 11 points and Walker added nine as Orange overcome a 20-point, 12-rebound performance from Hoover junior forward Kaylee Stroemple.
The Pioneers edged Gahanna to move into the regional final as Agler had 20 points, Walker scored 19 and Joseph went 6-for-6 from the foul line and finished with 11.
Gahanna senior guard Chrishna Butler made a 3-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer to force overtime, but the Pioneers made 11 of 14 free throws during the extra session.
The regional title advanced Grimes to her first state tournament since 1985 when she coached Dresden Tri-Valley to a Class AAA runner-up finish. Grimes also was an assistant in 1980 when West Lafayette Ridgewood was a Class AA state runner-up.
"I'm so proud of my team, the way we played," Walker said. "(Being at state is) going to be surreal."