by Gregg Meadows
Coach Kurt Kaufman’s Tri-Valley girls basketball team gritted out an OHSAA East District D-II District championship Saturday afternoon, Feb. 29 the old-fashioned way – they earned it.
In a game played in front of a boisterous crowd at West Muskingum High’s jam-packed Gary Ankrum Gymnasium, the Lady Dawgs from Dresden did themselves – and their community – proud, nipping the Maysville Lady Panthers by a slim 44-41 count to advance to their first ‘Sweet Sixteen’ Regional semi-final berth since the 2017 season.
The big win sends the 24-3 Lady Dawgs head-on into a gargantuan of a match-up with the 23-2 Sheridan Lady Generals, who they shared the 2019-20 Muskingum Valley League girls crown with. Tip-off is set for approximately 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday night, March 3 at Zanesville High School’s Winland Memorial Gymnasium. Top-ranked Circleville and Lakewood own the night’s first semi-final slot, tipping the Sweet Sixteen doubleheader off with a 6:15 p.m. jump ball at center court. (Circleville defeated Tri-Valley 50-41 back on Dec. 27 in a holiday tournament contest played at Pickerington Central High School.)
In the Maysville District title win, points were definitely at a premium in a battle between a pair of MVL powers meeting for the third time this season. (TV swept the season series with a pair of double-digit wins over Coach Pat Miller’s Lady Panthers).
Tri-Valley controlled the opening tip and on their first two possessions got an Audrey Spiker lay-up and two Lexi Howe charity tosses for a quick 4-0 lead. Maysville stormed back with six straight points on Averee Vaugh and Bailee Smith treys, before a rebound stick-back from hustling Janie McLoughlin and pair of Riley Tracy free throws hiked the Lady Dawgs back on top 8-6. Maysville added a Macie Jarrett fielder at 2:06 of the first quarter, then both teams came up empty on their last three possession of the opening frame and left playing floor stalemated 8-8 at the first beak.
The second stanza saw the Lady Dawgs spot Maysville a Jarrett free throw for a 9-8 MHS lead, then TV would spurt ahead on a 10-run, scoring on four of their first six second-quarter possessions for an 18-9 lead midway through the period. The big run was powered by another McLoughlin rebound put back, then a traditional three-point play by the scrappy sophomore, and five points as well from Tracy on a pair of charity tosses and her trey which prompted a Maysville timeout to talk things over. The Pat Miller pep talk worked, as the Lady Panthers went on a 9-0 run of their own (led by Smith’s five straight points and an NBA range trey) to tie the game at 18-18.
Lady Dawg senior Lauren King’s top of the key three-point swisher sent the black and gold to the halftime lockerroom with some needed momentum – and more importantly – a 21-18 lead at intermission.
Second half action saw the two MVL rivals scrap it out for the District title, with each possession battled for like it was their last, in a game whose outcome wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
Third-quarter action saw Lady Dawg junior standout Riley Tracy scored seven straight points on a traditional three-point play, rebound bucket, and pair of free throws on three straight Tri-Valley possessions, followed by an Audrey Spiker steal and lay-up. Those four straight possession scores were the only points the Lady Dawgs put up on the big Gary Ankrum Gymnasium scoreboard in the third period – but they were enough, as the black and gold took a precarious 30-26 lead into what would indeed be a wild and wooly final eight minutes of action.
The fourth quarter saw Tri-Valley’s Kyndal and Lexi Howe swish four charity tosses and Spiker add a lay-up for a 36-32 lead at the five-minute mark of the fourth frame, but the Lady Panther’s Averee Vaughn trey closed the gap to 36-35 at 4:24. After two more Kyndal Howe free throws and a Spiker charity toss bumped the lead to 39-35, Maysville’s Bailey Smith would throw in yet another NBA range trey to cut the lead to one – at 39-38 – with just 2:27 left.
The final two minutes of action all transpired at the free throw line – for both teams. Tri-Valley knocked down five of their ten attempted charity tosses in the final, frantic two minutes to ice the game, but not without withstanding one final Lady Panther salvo, as Maysville’s Averee Vaughn was fouled on a trey-attempt with five seconds left. Three free throws would have tied the game, but Vaughn made two, then TV’s Lexi Howe stripped the nets on a pair of charity tosses with one second left to seal the district trophy for the Lady Dawgs.
Tracy’s 14 points topped the District champs, while Spiker, McLoughlin and Lexi Howe each added a very important seven points apiece. The Lady Panthers were led in scoring by Bailee Smith’s 15, Jayda McGarvey’s 10 counters, and Alex Samson with eight.