SIDNEY — Botkins’ coach Mike Maurer opted to put his team in a first-round matchup against an opponent the squad had lost to by 20 points in regular season. If anyone initially questioned that decision, they weren’t after Saturday.
Botkins pulled away from Mechanicsburg over an eight-minute stretch in the second half to a 49-36 win in a Division IV sectional quarterfinal at Sidney High School.
Mechanicsburg won a home nonconference game against the Trojans 76-56 on Dec. 28. Saturday’s tournament matchup didn’t go anywhere near the same way.
The Trojans (14-9) outrebounded Mechanicsburg 38-27 and found repeated open looks in the paint. Mechanicsburg, who was able to make shots early and often in December’s matchup, shot 13 for 55 (24 percent) from the field on Saturday.
“Our girls just came out with a lot of intensity, effort, and played so well as a team and unit,” Maurer said. “They just really came together and did what it took to win. They followed the game plan. And Mechanicsburg has a heck of a team — they deserve all the credit in the world. You match up against Mechanicsburg, it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Indians (16-7) are the sectional’s No. 3 seed while Botkins is No. 4. Maurer could have put the Trojans in the bottom half of the Sidney bracket to set up first- and second-round games against lower seeds, but they would have had to likely beat No. 1 seed Fort Loramie in a sectional final to get to districts.
Botkins lost to Fort Loramie by 40 points and 24 points in two Shelby County Athletic League regular season games.
“We wanted to avoid Loramie, plain and simple,” Maurer said. “When you want to avoid Loramie, you have to choose what’s your best fit, and I thought this was the best fit for the team.”
Senior forward Paige Lane led Botkins with 19 points while forward Sarah Bergman scored 16. Bergman, a 6-foot-2 forward, also had several of Botkins’ eight blocks, which bothered Mechanicsburg’s already troubled offensive effort.
“Our team did an excellent job rebounding this game,” Bergman said. “We’ve been having trouble with that the last couple of games, but this game, we were on.”
Maurer said second-chance scoring opportunities contributed to Mechanicsburg’s big night in December.
“We knew we were going to have to control the boards because they’re one of the better rebounding teams you’re going to see, so we knew we were going to have to win that battle to win this game,” Maurer said.
“… We packed it in, made sure we were always matched up with our man, and talked and communicated. Our communication has grown tremendously, and that’s been the difference in our defense.”
Botkins led the Indians 23-18 at halftime. Mechanicsburg scored the first five points of the third quarter, but Botkins responded with a 6-0 run to take control. Bergman capped off the run with a basket in the paint with 2:30 left to boost the Trojans’ lead to 29-23.
The Indians pulled within 29-25, but Lane hit two baskets in the final 30 seconds to push the lead to 33-25 heading into the fourth. The Trojans then started the fourth on a 5-2 run to go up 37-27. They led by a double-digit margin the rest of the game.
“We missed shots inside, we missed shots outside, and if you don’t score, everything else is tough,” Mechanicsburg coach Christine Dodane said. “Everything else becomes magnified. They make a shot and you don’t go down and score, it starts to wear on you.”
The Indians were without 6-0 senior forward Elly Schipfer on Saturday. Schipfer, who scored 18 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds in the teams’ first matchup, suffered an injury in the second half of the season and hasn’t played since.
Dodane said Schipfer’s rebounding ability was missed against the Trojans.
“I thought we set the tone for (rebounding) right in the first possession,” Dodane said. “(Botkins) had four chances to score, and they finally did. They came crashing in on the boards, and we didn’t box them out, we lost them. …When (Schipfer) was playing, she was scoring double figures and rebounding double figures. You take that away, it’s tough.
“Bottom line, we didn’t put the ball in the hole. They didn’t score an outrageous amount of points, they didn’t put any pressure on us that I didn’t think we could handle. We just didn’t score.”
Kasey Schipfer led the Indians with 12 points.
Botkins advances to face No. 8 Riverside in a sectional semifinal on Tuesday at Sidney. Bergman said the Trojans will have to contain Riverside 6-0 senior center Marissa Davis, who’s had several double-doubles this year.
“They have a really big post, and we’ve got to keep their post under control,” Bergman said. “We’ve just got to rebound the ball again like we did on defense (today).”