BC tames Bulldogs, advances to state

PHOTO BY JOSH MORGRET Members of the Buckeye Central girls basketball team pose with the Division IV regional championship trophy after defeating Dalton in Massillon Saturday. The Bucks advanced to the state tournament by beating the Bulldogs, 55-47.

MASSILLON — At halftime on Saturday, Buckeye Central’s coaches and players talked about playing for one more week.

Well, they are going to get to.

Jenna Karl led the Bucks with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Buckeye Central fought back from trailing by six points twice to top Dalton 55-47 in a Division IV regional final at Massillon Perry High School.

“It is a great, great feeling,” Buckeye Central coach Greg Moore said. “It is a great, great tribute to these kids and to my coaching staff. These kids just believed from Day 1 and they battled. All they wanted to do was get 2 percent better everyday and I believe we did that.”

The Bucks improved to 26-1 and will face No. 2 Ottoville (26-2) in the state semifinals on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.

“We talked a lot about their defense,” Dalton coach Katie Miller said. “We felt like we had to get in the middle, so we told the kids to drive. We told them that if their feet were set, go ahead and shoot the 3.”

Courtney Pifher backed Karl with 15 points and six rebounds while Lexi Evak added 12 points and eight rebounds.

“It feels amazing and this is a dream come true,” Pifher said. “All the hours we put in has paid off. The blood, sweat and tears were worth it. It is amazing.”

The Bucks used incredible free throw shooting to put away the Bulldogs (22-5). After missing four of its first six attempts, Buckeye Central made its last 14 attempts, including a 9-of-9 effort in the fourth quarter.

“We needed to stay focused,” Karl said. “The crowd really helped because they were cheering no matter what. Even when we were behind, we knew we were in it.”

A 3-pointer from Jalyssa Turner gave Dalton a 34-28 lead with 4:07 left in the third quarter. Buckeye Central controlled the rest of the quarter, though. Pifher converted a three-point play and a triple from Karl drew the Bucks within 36-34. Kyleigh Brown then scored for the first time since late in the first quarter.

On the other end, Camille Beatty drilled yet another 3 for the Bulldogs, but scores from Evak and Taylor Ratliff gave the Bucks a 40-39 lead after three quarters. Dalton made 4 of 6 3-pointers in the third quarter.

“Dalton got the lead and they shot the ball well,” Moore said. “We never hung our heads down. We just played and made some adjustments at halftime to get the ball inside.”

The teams exchanged the lead back and forth in the first four minutes of the final quarter. Emma Cannon hit a jumper from the right baseline to give Dalton a 45-44 lead with 5:01 left, but it was the last lead the Bulldogs had.

Pifher again scored a three-point play and after an empty possession for the Bulldogs, Karl was fouled and made two free throws. Makenna Geiser stole the ball near mid-court and ran in for an easy layup to cut the lead to 49-47 with 2:15 left, but that was the last points for Dalton.

Karl scored on a floater in the lane with 1:40 left. Both teams had empty possessions before the Bulldogs missed a 3. Pifher made two free throws and after Dalton’s seventh turnover, Karl made two more free throws to seal the win. The Bulldogs missed all seven 3s they took in the fourth quarter.

“We knew they were going to make some 3s,” Moore said. “We just had to take care of business and block out. I thought coming down the stretch, we did that.”

Of the Bulldogs’ seven turnovers, four came on steals by Karl, who was also part of the volleyball team that made it to the state semifinals in November.

“We had to close out on them,” Moore said. “We could not give up that much space. I thought we did a good job of that in the second half.”

Karl hit a triple to give Buckeye Central an early 5-2 lead — the biggest lead the Bucks had until late in the fourth quarter. Dalton stormed back and took a 12-10 lead after eight minutes when Kirsten Shoup scored.

In the second quarter, the Bulldogs built leads of 17-12 and 23-18, only to see the Bucks keep it close and come back. Pifher scored a layup off a nice pass and assist from Kyleigh Brown with 54 seconds left. Pifher then grabbed an offensive rebound and scored as time expired, cutting the Dalton lead to 23-22 at halftime.

“We tried to get to the foul line more,” Miller said. “(Karl) is a really good defender. If you are going to go at her in a gap, you have to solid.”

Turner drilled a trey and Geiser scored to open the third quarter, but the Bucks got within two points at 28-26 on two free throws from Pifher with 5:19 left in the third quarter.

“It is a dream come true and it is even better to do it with all my friends,” Evak said. “We knew they had really good guards. We knew we had to play really good defense and I think we executed the game plan.”

Buckeye Central used a 31-21 rebounding edge and sound defense to aide its cause. Dalton was 3 of 4 on free throws in the first seven minutes of the game, but did not attempt another the rest of the game.

“I thought we did a good job after the first few minutes of rebounding,” Moore said. “I thought early we were giving up quite a bit of second and third shots. I am just so proud of these kids.”

Geiser paced the Bulldogs with 22 points.