VANDALIA — The start of last week was rough for Minster’s girls basketball team. Several players were ill, and senior forward Courtney Prenger said that contributed to a sometimes-sluggish performance in a regional semifinal against Tri-Village on Thursday.
Prenger and the Wildcats were as energetic as ever in a Division IV regional final against neighboring rival Fort Loramie on Saturday.
Fort Loramie battled back from an early nine-point deficit to take the lead early in the third quarter, but Minster ran away to a 43-29 victory to earn a second consecutive regional title and state berth.
The Redskins beat Minster 55-48 in double overtime in a regular-season game on Jan. 12 in Fort Loramie, and Minster coach Mike Wiss said that was the best thing that could have happened.
“That was especially good that we took that ‘L’ in the manner that we did, shooting something like 11 for 27 from the foul line, having a lead by six with less than three minutes left,” Wiss said. “The number one thing we wanted to do (tonight) was to control the tempo, and I think we did. We had a lot of possessions with more than 10 or 12 passes and didn’t let them rush us.”
The Wildcats (26-1) will now try for a second consecutive state title. They’ll face Willoughby Cornerstone Christian in a Div. IV state semifinal at 1 p.m. on Friday in Columbus at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center. Cornerstone Christian beat Dalton 35-29 in a regional final on Saturday in Massillon.
“I told them when we got off the bus today that this is our 104th day together (this season),” Wiss said. “That’s 104 days of hard work, trust, belief, and the thing that people forget, fun. This group right here enjoys what they do together.”
Fort Loramie took its only lead of the game after Marissa Meiring scored seven straight points early in the third quarter to put the Redskins ahead 23-22. Minster shut the Redskins down for the next six minutes and rattled off 10 straight points to take control.
“We wanted to control the tempo, and even though it kind of seemed to go their way, we had to remain patient and remain calm,” Prenger said of the 10-0 run. “We got the buckets and the looks that we wanted, and we stepped up on our defense.”
Fort Loramie finishes 26-2. The Redskins, which were ranked No. 1 in D-IV in the final state AP poll, have no seniors on the team and should be among the state’s best next year.
It’s the second consecutive season the teams have met in a regional final. Minster won last year’s tournament matchup 44-28.
“(Fort Loramie coach) Carla Siegel and I talked before this game, and the conversation went about how privileged we both are to have the kids that we have in two small school districts that lay it on the line as hard as we do,” Wiss said. “Carla said, ‘A great team is going to win this game and a great team is going to lose this game,’ and it’s just sad that that has to happen. Total respect to what she does.”
Prenger said the January loss to Fort Loramie was a good lesson for the squad.
“We didn’t really play that well that first game,” Prenger said. “They controlled the tempo of the game the entire time, and we could have won it a lot of times. …It was sort of a good loss, because you learn a lot from that.”
Prenger, a 6-foot-1 senior who is committed to Xavier, led Minster with 18 points. She scored 10 in the second half.
“We got Courtney the ball where she needed it tonight,” Wiss said. “She got the ball up high and you saw her kick it out a lot, and she got the ball back in pretty quick.
“… I told Courtney this week, ‘We need a big one out of you,’ and Courtney delivered.”
Prenger fouled out on Thursday against Tri-Village and scored eight points in the 60-50 win. She led the team from the start on Saturday and scored the first baskets of both the first and third quarters.
“We didn’t really know what to expect in that Tri-Village game,” Prenger said. “Personally I don’t think I played very well, and my teammates picked up my slack. This game, we knew that I needed, for myself and for my team, to have a dominant kind of game with my inside presence.”
Prenger also played through taking a strong elbow to her midsection in the middle of the third quarter on a play she was called for an offensive foul on. She gasped for air for nearly a minute afterwards but scored two early baskets in the fourth to help secure the win.
“Honestly, (the elbow and foul) didn’t really rattle me that much,” Prenger said. “I just had to get back and composed and get some air in me. I guess that break when (Wiss was talking to the officials) was nice.
“We couldn’t worry about the call; we had to get focused so we could get back to Columbus.”
Two players scored crucial baskets off the bench. Senior forward Danielle Barhorst scored seven points and senior guard Karly Richard scored five. Richard’s five points were the last in Minster’s 10-0 run in the third quarter.
Richard played sparingly off the bench this year but has become a key contributor this year.
“We just kept on moving the ball and passing, and they got me open,” Richard said. “We were just having so much fun.”
Minster led Fort Loramie 20-16 at the end of a first half that included several long scoreless streaks. The Wildcats built an early 11-3 lead and never trailed in the first half, but Fort Loramie quickly grabbed the lead in the third thanks to a big run by Meiring.
After Prenger opened the third quarter with a basket, Meiring hit a basket in the paint, made a baseline jumper then completed a three-point play after a short jumper to put the Redskins ahead 23-22 with 5:14 left.
Fort Loramie didn’t score the rest of the quarter, and Minster pulled ahead.
“They took that lead, and I could see it in Demaris Wolf’s face and Ivy Wolf when she brought the ball up the floor,” Wiss said. “That was the pissed off look of Ivy, like, ‘This is going to end.’”
After Wiss called a timeout, Prenger made a jumper and Ivy Wolf hit a 3 from the left wing to put Minster ahead 27-23 with 3:48 left.
Richard then hit a 3 from the left wing with 1:27 left and scored on a short jumper to boost the lead to 32-23.
Caitlyn Gasson scored a basket with 6:13 left in the fourth to break the long scoreless streak for Fort Loramie, but Prenger scored the next two baskets to push Minster’s lead to 36-25 with 3:44 left.
Meiring, a 5-9 junior post who was named Shelby County Athletic League player of the year, finished with 11 points. She didn’t score after her seven consecutive points in the third quarter until a pair of free throws with 1:05 left.
Wiss credited Demaris Wolf, a 5-10 guard/forward, for containing Meiring down the stretch.
“We told Demaris Wolf to go to work,” Wiss said. “Demaris normally guards the second post on the other team. We had Prenger on (Kenzie) Hoelscher and Demaris was guarding Meiring, and that’s an okay matchup. Meiring is stronger than Demaris, and Demaris will admit that. But Demaris is a senior, and she did what she needed to do.”
Minster quickly took a big lead. Janae Hoying made a putback with 6:03 left in the first to put the Wildcats ahead 6-2, then neither team scored for the next 2:30. Barhorst made a basket with 3:33 left, then Ivy Wolf hit a wide-open 3 from the right wing a minute later to push the lead to 11-2.
Fort Loramie finished the first quarter on a 4-2 run to cut the gap to seven points. Barhorst made a 3 from the left corner with 6:28 left in the second to put Minster ahead 16-8, but Dana Rose hit a 3-pointer 20 seconds later and Ava Sholtis made a jumper with 5:21 left to bring Fort Loramie within 16-13.
There was little scoring the rest of the half. Prenger made a basket with 2:09 left, then Barhorst made a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to increase Minster’s lead to seven. Rose hit a 3 shortly after inbounding the ball at the buzzer to bring Fort Loramie within 20-16 at halftime.
Rose finished with six points and Sholtis finished with five. Fort Loramie shot 27 percent from the floor.
Ivy Wolf finished with six points for the Wildcats, which shot 41 percent from the floor.
If victorious on Friday, Minster will advance to the D-IV state championship game, which will be at 5:15 on Saturday in Columbus.
“It’ll take a lot of hard work,” Richard said. “We’re going to push each other every day in practice like we always do and see how far we get.”
Fort Loramie’s team bus left before interviews with Minster were completed.