An all-star performance by Springboro’s Kelly Wurth, and a stingy zone defense spelled the end of Sidney’s unbeaten season.
TROY – The tone was set from the opening tip.
Sidney’s Celena Taborn controlled the tap, but the Jackets immediately turned the ball over. Kelly Wurth scored on the Panthers’ first possession for a lead that, with the exception of a 2-2 tie, they never lost in beating the Yellow Jackets 61-45 in the D-I sectional finals at the Trojan Activity Center.
The Jackets would turn the ball over 19 times, nearly twice their average, and Wurth, the GWOC South player of the year, would score 33 points, nearly twice her average, as the Panthers won for the 22nd time in 23 games while ending Sidney’s unbeaten streak at 24.
“Springboro is a very good defensive team,” said a disappointed Sidney coach Megan Mummey. “They stopped our guards from getting the ball inside to our bigs, our go-to scorers, and it was just tough for us offensively.
“It was one of those games that you tried to prepare for, but we couldn’t stop Kelly Wurth. She’s a great player and we let her get on a roll.”
Springboro jumped to 13-4 lead, but the Jackets battled back, cutting the lead to 20-19 early in the second quarter. Sidney had two chances to take the lead, but a missed front end of a one and one cost them the first one, and a missed three pointer cost them the second.
Wurth hit a three in the final seconds of the half to give the Panthers a 34-28 lead at the break. That trey, and a triple by Jordan Diehl to start the second half, started a 16-0 Springboro run that ran for more than 7 minutes of the third quarter. When Sylvia Hudson finally scored for the Jackets, they trailed 47-30, and their fate was sealed.
The Panthers, after giving up 22 first half points to Hudson and Taborn, switched to a zone in the second half with devastating effectiveness. Hudson scored 6 points in the second half, while Taborn was scoreless. By the time senior guard Kaitlyn Davis hit a trio of threes, it was a matter of too little, too late.
“I didn’t want to go to the zone until the second half,’ said long-time Panther coach Tom Benjamin. “I didn’t want them to get a feel for it, and then be able to go in at halftime and talk about it. We knew we may have to switch up because of their size and their ability to score the ball inside.
“We didn’t box out as well as we can early in the game. They got six points off put-backs in the first half, and that was a big swing in the game. Our zone was definitely a difference-maker.”
Benjamin gave full credit to his players.
“We had one day to prepare, and I felt like we needed about four,” he said with a smile. “I drew up an in-bounds play in the lobby. This is a great win, and I’ll appreciate it hopefully in about a month. There is still a lot of things we want to do.”
After shooting 67% in the first half, the Jackets missed 13 of their first 15 shots in the second half, and finished at 48%. Springboro was 22 of 51 for 43%. Springboro had a big edge at the free throw line, hitting 13 of 18 to the Jackets 2 of 7. Sidney won the battle of the boards 25-20, but had those 19 turnovers to just four for the Panthers.
Sylvia Hudson, the Lady Jackets all-time leading scorer, closed out her career with a team high 20. Davis finished with 9, and Taborn added 8.
Wurth was simply magnificent, 11 points in the first quarter, nine in the second, eight in the third and 5 in the fourth to finish with 33. Diehl, who came into the game averaging 7.5 points a game, added 12 for the Panthers, who move on to the District finals next Saturday at 22-3.
Benjamin had plenty of praise for the 5-9 Wurth.
“Here is what people don’t realize. She plays about twenty-one minutes a game and averages eighteen points. She led us in assists, rebounds, steals and points. She is a great player; I think she is the best player in the area. She is the best player I have ever coached, boys or girls.”
There were a lot of tears in the Jackets locker-room after the game, which ended the best season in school history. The Jackets have won back to back GWOC North titles, gone 46-3 over the past two seasons, and will carry a 40 game regular season winning streak into next season.
“These senior are really special,” concluded Mummey. “Two of them have played for me since they were freshmen. They will be truly missed and we will have some very big shoes to fill next year.”
For Benjamin and the Panthers, they hope there is a lot more basketball to be played.
“This is a key win for us. Our kids have worked hard all year,” Benjamin explained. “We lost our first two games, and have won twenty-two of the last twenty-three. We haven’t gotten much respect state-wide (the Panthers were un-ranked in the final AP poll) and maybe we don’t deserve it, I don’t know. I told them after the Alter win (A 58-51 decision over the defending Division Two state champs in December) let’s not make this our highest point of the season. There are even bigger things down the road. It’s a great win and I am happy for them.”
For Sidney, it’s time to reflect on an historic season and begin preparation on taking the next step next season.