VANDALIA — The combo of Fort Loramie senior forwards Kenzie Hoelscher and Dana Rose powered the squad through its first four tournament games — just like they’ve powered the squad through much of the last two years.
While nearly everyone else coach Carla Siegel puts on the court has scored in double figures at some point in the last two years, Hoelscher and Rose are among the few that previously had big performances in tight tournament games.
So there was some concern in a Division IV regional semifinal against neighboring rival Minster on Thursday when neither could find baskets inside — or could get the ball in their hands much due to a flurry of early turnovers.
There was no worry, though. Senior forward Jadyn Puthoff made sure of that.
Puthoff helped keep the Redskins in the game early, and she and newly-returned junior forward Ava Sholtis along with Hoelscher helped lead a late rally that lifted the squad to a 47-36 comeback win at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center.
“Different people stepped up. Jadyn Puthoff, that was the game of her career right there,” Siegel said. “We were running plays for her, and she was catching shots and shooting before she caught it, and you knew it was going to go in.
“We always say we’re a good team, and with a couple of our players struggling tonight, others stepped up. I think that epitomizes our team. Somebody’s going to step up and do their job.”
Puthoff scored a career-high 21 points, including consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that helped power a 15-3 advantage for the Redskins which turned a 33-32 deficit into an 11-point win.
The squad also got a boost from Sholtis, who was playing in her third game this season on Thursday — six months to the day after she began rehabbing after tearing an ACL in a season-opening volleyball match in late August.
Sholtis started as a sophomore but didn’t get on the floor until being inserted during a free-throw attempt in the squad’s sectional final. She saw her first real playing time late in a district final win over Cincinnati Country Day on Saturday.
“Probably played more minutes tonight than I expected her, and she scored when we needed her to score,” Siegel said.
Sholtis finished with six points and also helped lead a strong defensive effort in the second half.
“She just got released (fully) on Monday and has practiced for three days,” Siegel said. “I don’t think she missed a beat out there. …She was at practice every day with our (trainer) working. My goal for her was to dress for tournament and be a part of it. For her to play was never on my radar until maybe two weeks ago, when she was looking really good.”
It was the seventh time in four years the squads had met. Minster won two regional final matchups in 2018 and 2019 in Vandalia. The squads likely would have met in the D-IV state title game last year, but the remainder of the tournament was cancelled after regionals due to COVID-19.
“There’s great basketball in our area,” Siegel said. “These girls have played each other since third or fourth grade and play all the time. They know each other like the back of their hands.
“… For my team, I’m relieved. I’m happy for my team and I’m happy for my seniors that they got this opportunity.”
The win advances Fort Loramie (26-1) to its fourth consecutive Div. IV regional final. It’ll face Tri-Village, which beat Legacy Christian by 11 points in Thursday’s second semifinal, on Saturday night in Vandalia.
The Patriots (23-2) are led by junior forwards Megan Downing and Morgan Hunt and sophomore guard Rylee Sagester. All three earned all-Southwest district recognition.
“This time of the year, nothing comes easy,” Siegel said. “You’ve got to battle all 32 minutes.”
Senior guard Ivy Wolf hit a jumper midway through the third to give Minster a 27-20 lead, but the Redskins responded with a 12-2 run to take a one-point lead.
Brynn Oldiges made a basket in the final minute to give the Wildcats a 33-32 lead heading into the fourth, but Fort Loramie continued its third-quarter dominance.
The teams traded baskets early in the fourth, then Puthoff made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Fort Loramie a 40-36 lead.
“I think there was a stretch there late where we had five or six turnovers in a row, which mirrored a stretch we created for them in the first half,” Minster coach Mike Wiss said. “It’s just ours came at the wrong time.
“It’s just two good teams going to battle, that’s what it amounts to.”
Hoelscher added a couple late baskets, and the squad pulled away from there at the free-throw line.
“I knew Minster would stop maybe one of (Hoelscher or Rose) but I thought the other would come around,” Siegel said. “… Kenzie struggled in the first three quarters offensively and defensively. We kept taking her out, and every time we did we’d say, ‘Come on girl, your team needs you. Do something at one end or the other.’
“She scored one basket late and got a rebound, and it was like a different person was out there all of a sudden.”
Fort Loramie’s 3-2 zone struggled to contain Wolf and Minster early, but Siegel credited Colleen Brandewie for making a difference in the second half.
Two other players were tasked with focusing on Wolf in the zone earlier in the game before Siegel switched to Brandewie.
“I thought Colleen just did a phenomenal job defensively on her,” Siegel said.
The teams traded baskets to a 9-8 score at the end of the first quarter before Wolf led a big run that helped the Wildcats built a 21-11 lead. Fort Loramie scored the last seven points of the first half, though, including an off-balance buzzer-beater by Sholtis.
“Our game plan was to attack all game,” Siegel said. “Minster plays phenomenal defense, so it’s not like we didn’t expect some (problems). But I felt like my girls were timid, and it felt like in the first half we were playing on our heels, except for Jadyn Puthoff. Thank God she showed up tonight.
“… We didn’t run one single play the entire first half. With all the turnovers we made, we couldn’t get into any continuity. We had that nice break at the end that kept us in the game. …That was huge. We come into the locker room and have something good to talk about.”
Wolf, a Miami (Ohio) commit, led Minster with 20 points.
Minster finishes 24-2 and will lose eight seniors to graduation, including Wolf, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer in Thursday’s game. She finishes with over 1,660 career points.
Also graduating will be senior guard Janae Hoying. Wolf and Hoying both played on the team’s 2018 Div. IV state championship squad and started on the 2019 state title team.
“Guards take you a long way,” Wiss said. “They have six other (seniors) with them now that are great teammates, and the teammates they’ve played with the last four years have helped them along the way get to that point.”
Minster will also lose Oldiges, Kyra Oldiges, Jenna Hueker, Kate Larger, Mason Pohl and Dana Prenger.
“I’m really proud of the four-year run these seniors have had,” Wiss said. “Two state championships, going back for a third and getting taken off the bus, and getting back to regionals and losing to a team that’s got a great shot at winning this year.
“What a bunch of class kids that do it the right way.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.