COVINGTON — Prior to the season the Anna Rockets wanted to be known for their defense. Come Saturday, the Rockets want to go by another identity.
After a sluggish start, Anna locked down Preble Shawnee 36-24 to win a Division III sectional championship at Covington High School on Tuesday. The victory avenged last season’s 39-32 sectional loss to Preble Shawnee and puts Anna in the D-III district title game Saturday at Springfield High School.
On Tuesday night, seventh-seeded Shawnee (18-6) picked up where it left off from last season’s meeting. Junior guards Jenna Lovely and Nicole Sims combined to score 10 of the game’s first 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers from Sims. Shawnee led 10-2 in the first 2:41 of the game.
It was all No. 6 Anna (19-6) after that. The Rockets unleashed a 17-0 run — highlighted by senior Macey Huelskamp’s nine points — that carried them to a 19-10 lead early in the second quarter. The lead was 23-15 at the half.
“We fully expected this to be a battle all the way through,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “I was extremely proud of our girls for the way the game started. We had things not go well at the beginning. They kept battling. I told the girls, that’s what you do when you’re facing adversity. You keep pushing through.”
With Anna’s patient, work-the-perimeter ball controlled offense receiving a variety of help, the defense put the finishing stamp on the win by holding Preble Shawnee to two points in the fourth quarter. As for Lovely and Sims, who entered the game combining for 21.5 points per game, they went scoreless the final 29:19 after their scoring outburst.
“I was confident in our girls. I thought we were ready,” Shawnee coach Kevin Schaeffer said. “I felt like we stood a fair shot at winning the ball game. Anna was well coached, they worked very hard, and they deserved to get us tonight. We didn’t have a good mental or physical night. Playing good teams will do that to a team.”
Sims led Preble Shawnee with six points, junior leading scorer Brenna Woodard had five and Lovely four.
“We leaned way too heavily on those girls,” Schaeffer said. “(Sims, Woodard and Lovely) tried to create by themselves and at times four girls were standing watching one girl work.”
Huelskamp led Anna with 16 points. She scored four straight to end the first quarter, then capped the 17-0 run with a 3-pointer early in the second quarter. She helped keep Preble Shawnee at bay in the third quarter, too.
A free throw and basket off an offensive rebound — started by freshman Ella Doseck’s steal — put the Rockets up 30-20. Huelskamp added a block moments later.
“We take a lot of pride on our defense. That’s our main focus,” Huelskamp said. “At the beginning of the season we wanted be known for our defense and I think we accomplished that, but we can still work on it.”
“Macey is that girl … we count on her to be that senior leader,” Maurer said. “She’s come through countless times when we need baskets and when times are tough. She’s the one that gets us those work-hard buckets.”
The Rockets also picked up key contributions from senior Abby Gaydosh, who scored five of her six points in the first quarter. Senior Jada Rowland stepped up in the second quarter with five of her seven points. And Gaydosh, Doseck and sophomore Michaela Ambos all hit free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got some seniors who are accepting their roles,” Maurer said. “They’re not necessarily getting the big minutes but they’re doing what we need them to do when they’re in the game.”
The 24 points was a season low for Preble Shawnee, which hadn’t scored less than 37 points prior to Tuesday. The Southwestern Buckeye League team entered the game averaging 53.1. And the Arrows looked on their way to hitting that with their fast start against Anna.
“I just told everyone that we’re good. We’re fine. We can get in this,” Huelskamp said she told her teammates after that slow start.
“We wanted to win so bad and continue our season since we all love this game and love each other. I haven’t been (to district) since I was a freshman so I’m pretty excited.”
Anna plays Williamsburg (24-1) in the district final Saturday. Williamsburg, which plays in the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference, suffered its lone loss to Wilmington.
“Their goal this season was to get to a district game,” said Maurer, who has scouted Williamsburg twice. “It means a lot to them. We have six seniors out there. I think there were some jitters and nerves. Once we got settled in and got our wits about us, we started being more patient on the offensive end and talking and communicating on defense. That’s what you have to do against a good team.”