TROY — A year ago, Carla Siegel would have been worried if Marissa Meiring got in early foul trouble and sat most of the first half in a district final game.
“Today, I was just like, ‘Next man up,’” Siegel, Fort Loramie’s 20-year veteran coach, said. “I just can’t say enough about the bench and how they responded.”
Fort Loramie showed again in a Division IV district final against Cedarville on Saturday at Troy’s Trojan Activities Center that it is as deep as any small-school team in the state. Eleven players played two or more quarters and nine scored for the Redskins, which ran away in the second half to a 49-21 victory over the Indians.
“Everybody wants everybody to do well,” Siegel said of the team’s chemistry. “Whether it’s a starter doing great things or a girl coming off the bench doing great things, they’re happy and they’re supportive and they’re encouraging. That’s what makes us a great team.”
It’s the second consecutive district title for Fort Loramie and the program’s ninth in the last 10 seasons.
Although Siegel had high expectations for the squad entering the season with many returning players from last year’s regional runner-up finish, she was unsure how the young squad would perform.
Despite having no seniors, the Redskins have played as well as any Div. IV team in the state — including defending state champion Minster, which they beat in double overtime 56-48 on Jan. 12. Fort Loramie went from No. 2 to No. 1 in the D-IV state AP poll after the win and stayed there the rest of regular season.
“When the rankings came out, everyone was like, ‘Oh, we’re number one, that’s cool,’ but it really doesn’t matter until we prove it,” sophomore Kenzie Hoelscher said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time. We take a lot of time in practice to work on the fundamentals.
“Since we don’t have seniors, I feel like everyone kind of has to step up and fill that spot and take some leadership. Everyone is taking that step up and playing harder and stronger than we were last year.”
A potential rematch with Minster looms in a D-IV regional final next Saturday. But first, Fort Loramie (25-1) must beat Xenia Legacy Christian (23-2) in a regional semifinal, which will be at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activities Center.
The Knights, which edged Russia 41-38 in a sectional final last Wednesday, beat Franklin-Monroe 49-34 in Saturday’s second district final. They have three players that average over 10 points per game, including 5-foot-10 sophomore forward Emma Hess, who was a first team all-Southwest district D-IV selection.
“Once you reach regionals, every game is tough,” Siegel said. “There are no easy games. It’s going to be tough from here on out, so we’ve just got to be mentally prepared and physically ready.”
Fort Loramie led 27-13 at halftime, but Siegel was a bit frustrated with the team’s offensive play, particularly in the post.
“Our shot chart said we missed 13 total inside the paint. I wasn’t happy with our post players and kind of let them have it at halftime,” Siegel said. “I thought Kenzie and Marissa (Meiring) responded better in the second half.”
Meiring, who was named also named first team all-Southwest district last week, missed most of the first half in foul trouble but gave the team a spark early in the third with several rebounds and two baskets. She finished with four points.
“She brought some energy in the second half, and I think we missed that there in the second quarter, and that’s why we were struggling a little bit. But we have a great bench.”
Hoelscher, a 5-foot-11 forward, led Fort Loramie with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half. Ava Sholtis added eight, Jadyn Puthoff added six and Taylor Ratermann and Kennedi Gephart each scored five.
Fort Loramie built an early 9-2 lead, but Cedarville senior guard Maggie Coe scored five late points to help the squad pull within 11-7 heading into the second.
“All of our coaches tell us just to focus on the next play,” Hoelscher said. “If we make a mistake, pick yourself up and worry about the next play. All our teammates will pick you up. They’re always like, ‘You’ve got it Kenzie, you can do it,’ if I make a mistake. Everyone just builds each other up and helps you push through it.”
The Redskins picked themselves up in a hurry. Gephart hit a 3 to open the second quarter, which was the first points in a 9-0 run. Hoelscher finished the quarter with a put-back at the buzzer to extend the lead to 27-13.
The Redskins scored the first eight points of the third on their way to a 12-3 scoring advance in the quarter and scored the first four points of the fourth to push the lead to 39-16.
Coe finished with 16 points, which is six under her average. Siegel credited Gephart, Caitlyn Gasson and Colleen Brandewie for the defensive effort on Coe.
“The rest of the girls did a good job of shutting down the rest of the team,” Siegel said. “When one girl scores 16 of their 21 points, that shows how good everyone else is doing. I just loved our defensive pressure today.
“… We talked the last two days about how we wanted to contain (Coe), and we did it for the most part, but we were missing some of our rotations, so we talked about that (at halftime). We started picking her up a little bit more at half court with a double team, and I thought that kind of flustered her a little bit.”
Cedarville finishes 18-7. The Indians, which lost to Fort Loramie 57-45 in a district final last year, will lose four seniors to graduation.