VANDALIA — The expectation for Fort Loramie to win a regional championship this season was practically set before it even walked off the court at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center a year ago after losing to rival Minster in a regional final.
And though Cincinnati Country Day prevented the Redskins from running away like many of their other tournament games, the expectation was met on Saturday. Now Fort Loramie will begin working to meet the other expectation many have had for the group since last year — winning the Division IV state title.
The Redskins scored the last 11 points to pull away and beat the Indians 50-34 on Saturday in Vandalia to capture their first regional championship since 2015. It’s the program 10th regional title.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” senior guard Kennedi Gephart said. “It’s the complete opposite from last year, so we love that. We love to grow and get better and finish games like this.”
The Redskins lost to eventual state champion Minster in regional finals each of the last two years. They returned every player from last year’s 26-2 team, which finished as the top-ranked D-IV team in the final state Associated Press poll.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know all our hard work and dedication has paid off,” senior forward Marissa Meiring said. “… We were all very disappointed (last year) because we knew we had the potential. I think having everyone back this year just fueled the fire. We knew that we had the potential, we just had to work for it every day.”
Fort Loramie (26-0) repeated as poll champions this year and will look to win the real D-IV championship this weekend. The squad will face Willoughby Cornerstone Christian in a state semifinal at 6 p.m. on Thursday at St. John’s Arena in Columbus.
“It’ll take doing the little things, doing what we do right and playing Loramie basketball,” Gephart said. “That’s what Coach (Carla) Siegel always says, play Loramie basketball.”
Siegel said playing ‘Loramie basketball’ requires many things — including “tenacious” defense — but can be summarized as “giving everything you have when you’re on the floor.”
The squad did that on Saturday against the Indians, which finish 25-3.
Country Day went on a 17-7 run in the second half and pulled within 38-34 with 4:58 left in the fourth. The squad didn’t score again, though, and Fort Loramie was able to pull away with two layups and seven free throws.
Fort Loramie went about eight minutes in the second half without scoring a field goal, which Siegel said she believes is the longest such stretch this season.
“We kept telling them the same thing (every timeout), we have to go to the pass,” Siegel said. “I think a lot of times we were on our heels, which would allow them to get deflections and get steals. We talked about ball reversal. It took us three and a half quarters to get our girls to understand that if we reverse the ball, we were going to get the open look. I think that’s what happened at the end of the fourth quarter.”
Junior forward Dana Rose helped the Redskins pull away. She made a foul shot with 3:36 left to break an about two-minute long scoreless stretch and give the Redskins a 40-34 lead.
Rose then blocked a shot, grabbed the ball, raced down the floor and made a layup with 2:56 left to give the squad an eight-point lead.
“That was huge,” Siegel said. “That was good for our team. The bench erupted and the crowd erupted. I think that gave us the breathing room we needed. We needed something to go right.”
Meiring and Ava Sholtis each scored 10 points for Fort Loramie while Gephart and Rose each scored nine.
It’s only the third time this season the squad has scored 50 or less in a game. Though the Redskins struggled with offense for much of the last three quarters, their defense was as good as normal.
Cincinnati Country Day averaged 64 points per game and hadn’t scored less than 41 points before Saturday.
“Defensively, I have no complaints and think that we were fine,” Siegel said. “… The first quarter was great tonight, but the second and third quarter, nothing was going our way. We had the lead, but we were fighting and struggling to maintain our lead. We weren’t smooth and didn’t look comfortably offensively.”
Siegel said it was a good time for the team to get a tune-up.
“I told the girls that they need to buckle down and work on some things and not everything is going to be easy,” Siegel said. “That’s what we talked about at halftime, that we have to battle through our mistakes instead of hanging our heads and being upset about it. Battle through it, make corrections and learn from it.”
Meiring made two late free throws in the second quarter to boost Fort Loramie’s lead to 24-9 at halftime. The Indians started the third quarter on an 8-2 run to pull within nine points, but Rose completed a three-point play and Sholtis made consecutive baskets to push the team’s lead to 33-17 with 5:05 left.
The Redskins didn’t score a field goal again until Gephart made a long jumper with 5:22 left in the fourth, which pushed the team’s lead to 38-29.
“I think we just all needed to have a reality check,” Meiring said of the second half. “We just had to calm down, listen to our game plan and execute it. I think we all did that very well, and we played as a team.
“It was different, but it’s the regionals, so you’re going to have those ruts. I’m glad that our team could push through and battle that.”
Country Day scored the next five points to pull within 38-34 before Fort Loramie pulled away late.
A tournament meeting between Fort Loramie and Minster this year is still possible. The Wildcats crushed Wayne Trace 65-30 in a regional final on Saturday in Elida to earn its third consecutive state berth.
If Minster and Fort Loramie win state semifinals on Thursday, they’ll meet in the Division IV state championship game on Saturday in Columbus.
Meiring said the team isn’t looking past Thursday’s semifinal.
“We’ll just have to play Loramie basketball,” Meiring said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.