Columbian knocks down 2nd-straight win

Shot after shot fell off the mark. It didn’t seem as if anyone would be able to get the job done. Then Laura Heminger stepped up.

Midway through the fourth quarter of Columbian’s game against Fostoria, the ball managed to get stuck on top of the backboard after a missed shot. Officials and players tried in vain to knock the ball down. Around 10 shots failed before Heminger finally got it done.

That wasn’t the only time Heminger stepped up when needed in the fourth.

With Columbian teammate Valesha Province, the Northern Ohio League’s leading scorer, stymied by the Fostoria defense, Heminger and Payge Smith stepped up to carry the load for Columbian in a 54-38 victory.

“It’s good to have a whole team effort, and everyone come together for a win,” Heminger said. “We haven’t been winning a lot this season. Now that we finally, are it’s a pretty good moment.”

Province finished with a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Smith added 12 points and Heminger 10.

“We talked before about the kids buying in, the defense has really what made the change,” Columbian coach Katie Fazekas said. “Again, an all-around team win. We had three kids in double digits. We’ve been begging for that all season. Payge Smith had a career game tonight. She played really, really well, played like a senior. That’s good to see. It’s fun to see the kids get the results from the hard work.”

“It feels awesome, but it’s a team effort; it really is,” Smith added. “Our coach told us, ‘You guys are getting better, you got to buy into it.’ We’re finally buying into it.

“I think the difference is, it’s a whole team effort. We have more people scoring more. We had three people in double digits today and I think that’s really the big difference.”

Province staked Columbian to an early lead with four 3-pointers – some that would’ve been good from NBA range – and 15 points in the first half. The Tornadoes took a 10-point lead into the break.

“She’s got a pretty deep range, but that comes from hard work,” Fazekas said of Province’s long-range bombs. “She practices those. That’s not a fluke. I think I’m the only one not surprised when she makes those.”

Things started to change course in the third quarter. The Redmen defense clamped down on Province and Jada Hampton got hot, sparking a Fostoria comeback. Two late layups from Olivia Valenti brought Fostoria within three, 36-33, going into the fourth.

“We didn’t really chance anything,” Fostoria coach J.T. Bates said of the improved defense on Province. “Our game plan was to run a diamond-and-1, and we did that. She’s hitting shots 4 feet behind the line. I’m not going to get yell at my girl for not getting there. That’s just kudos to her for coming in and shooting in the summer and turning into a great shooter. We adjusted a bit and told our girls to maybe go out when she’s 4, 5 feet behind the line and they did that.”

But with Province being held in check, Smith and Heminger picked up the slack. The duo combined for 12 (each with six) of the quarter’s first 14 points. A basket by Chelsea Hutchins and two Mckenzie Zimmerman free throws closed out a 16-2 run that drove home the Columbian win.

Province had just one point in the second half, but that’s fine with her as long the team gets the win.

“That’s all I can ask for,” she said. “I don’t care who scores the points, as long as we score the points. When I went in that drought it was awesome that my teammates were there to pick me up. Payge stepped up big time, that really helped.”

“When she gets down we pick her up; the whole team picks her up,” Smith said. “When other people get down we all pick each other up, it’s a total team effort.”

The increased offensive balance also coincided with a defensive lockdown on Fostoria in the fourth. The Redmen hit just 2 of 16 shots from the field over the final eight minutes.

“We talked at the end of the third quarter that the defense was going to have to tighten up, and that would be the difference,” Fazekas said. “The kids came out, they got deflections, they were active and it worked. We tightened up, then we scored at the other end and the lead expanded.”

“We were just making sure everyone knew where everyone was at, where the shooters were at,” Heminger added. “That was our regular defense, we just had to bring up the energy.”

Bates said his team executed its game plan, but just couldn’t hit the shots when needed late.

“We played hard. Effort’s never really a question with us. We have eight players in our whole program. We’re playing four freshmen, a couple sophomores a couple juniors. We played well,” he said as his team fell to 1-17. “Our game plan was to keep (Province) under 20 and we did that. They snuck a couple other girls in on us to pick up the slack. We just didn’t score. We just couldn’t hit shots. When you can’t score, you can’t win. Until we are able to make layups when open, and get to the foul line and execute, we’ll struggle.”

Columbian picked up its second straight win, improving to 3-15. The Tornadoes look to carry their new-found momentum into the final games and season.

“I think we’re finally starting to put a lot of things together,” Province said. “We’re starting to get our confidence up and I think we’re going to get rolling in the last couple games of the season.”