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Tigers, Bucks each advance, setting up all-N10 final

WILLARD — Seneca East knew it was coming.

The Tigers built a double-digit lead, but putting away a tough St. Paul squad was no easy feat.

Jessica Bowerman tallied 25 points and seven rebounds, leading top-seeded Seneca East past the Flyers 41-30 in a Division IV district semifinal at Willard High School on Thursday.

“The last five minutes was defense and coming up big on the boards,” Seneca East coach Don Vogt said. “We came up with a couple steals and a couple hustle plays. I told the kids that when teams that are evenly matched like we were with St. Paul, it is going to be the little things that get the job done.”

The Tigers improve to 21-3 and advance to face third-seeded Buckeye Central (19-5), who topped Lucas 50-34 in the night’s second game.

“Jessica is just a hustler,” Vogt said. “She gets after it. She just kind of — as she does sometimes — put the team on her shoulder and tries to carry them.”

Camille Endsley banked in a jumper with 6:07 left to bring the Flyers (21-4) within 30-28, but the defense of the Tigers was too much. While St. Paul struggled to score, Bowerman continued her offensive burst for the Seneca East offense.

The ultra-aggressive, high-intensity junior scored and then nailed her fourth 3-pointer of the night. Makenna Depinet added a score off a steal and suddenly, Seneca East led 37-28 with 2:55 left.

“(Bowerman) is a very good ball player,” St. Paul coach Vicky Mahl said. “She gets it when she needs to get it done. She just never stops.”

Megan Hammersmith scored off of an offensive rebound, but Bailey Hamilton countered with a layup. The tally by Hammersmith was the only points the Flyers scored in the final 6:06 of the game.

“We had some turnovers,” Mahl said. “On a whole, we got the ball to the rim. We just did not get it in. Give credit to Seneca East for what they did too.”

Bowerman made her presence known early and often for Seneca East. In the first quarter, she nailed a 3, scored on a putback and added another triple for a 10-2 lead. She scored again and added a 3 at the buzzer as the Tigers took a 15-3 lead after eight minutes.

St. Paul made just 1 of 8 shots in the first quarter — a jumper by Endsley just 10 seconds into the game. Seven turnovers in the opening quarter also hurt the Flyers.

“If we have a better first quarter, I think that it is a totally different outcome,” Mahl said. “Give credit to Seneca East — actually give credit to Bowerman. Not to take anything away from the rest of their team, but if you do not have her, it is another outcome.”

Anna Lukasko got St. Paul going in the second quarter with three buckets to bring the Flyers within 17-9. St. Paul was still within 20-11 after a Brooke Houck score, but Brooke Bordner nailed an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend the Tigers’ lead.

St. Paul made its initial surge back into the game in the third quarter. Scores from Lukasko, Endsley, Danielle Smith and Hammersmith brought the Flyers to within 25-19. Later, baskets by Hammersmith and Lukasko cut the margin to 26-23, but Alexis Hicks scored for the Tigers for a five-point lead after three quarters.

Endsley opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play, bringing St. Paul as close as 28-26 with 6:27 left.

“Our bench kids did a really nice job,” Vogt said. “I know we had some turnovers, but everybody turns the ball over at one point. I thought they came in in a pressure situation because it is do-or-die. They stepped it up and did a nice job.”

Hammersmith and Endsley each scored nine points for the Flyers.

“I am extremely proud of my kids,” Mahl said. “We talked a little bit at halftime that we had to come out and make a run in the second half. That is what we did and we put Seneca East back on their heels a little bit.”

It is the second straight district final appearance for the Tigers.

“It does not matter who we face because you have one day to prepare and that is it,” Vogt said. “You end up putting your best game out on Saturday and pray it is good enough.”

In the night’s second game, the Bucks raced out to a 34-14 halftime lead and never trailed in convincing win over Lucas (20-5).

“We did a good job of preparing and paying attention in the first couple days of practice,” Buckeye Central coach Abram Kaple said. “Lucas lives off of turnovers and we did not have any live-ball turnovers in the first half for them to get out and run. Our job was to sprint back to the paint and find them and make them score in the halfcourt.”

Buckeye Central led 14-5 after one quarter and the lead was extended thanks in part to clutch 3-point shooting. The Bucks made 7 of 10 3s in the first half to push the margin out.

“We shot the ball really well in the first half,” Kaple said. “To be up 20 at halftime against a team that has 20 wins is huge. That ended up being the difference.”

Buckeye Central was led by Taylor Ratliff’s 15 points while Claudia Pifher scored 11. The Bucks will get a third meeting with Seneca East. The two teams split a pair Northern 10 Athletic Conference meetings with each winning at home. BC took a 42-40 victory on Dec. 10 while Seneca East bounced back 35-28 Jan. 18.

“We are looking forward to it,” Kaple said. “We felt like we probably did not play our best game at Seneca East. Listen, Seneca East is drastically improved from where they were at the beginning of the year.”

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