WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge
Central Catholic's long reign as City League girls basketball champion is over.
The eight-year hold on the title did not end without a spirited Irish comeback, and included enough suspense in the closing seconds to fell the faint of heart.
But, in a game that nobody seemed to want to win at the end, Waite emerged with a 53-52 victory in last night's CL semifinals at Rogers.
The fourth-seeded Indians (14-4) will face Notre Dame Academy (15-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Waite for the championship. The Eagles edged Bowsher 46-44 in last night's second semifinal.
Sophomore guard Shareese Ulis hit the second of two free throws with 6.3 seconds remaining for Waite's 53rd point.
"My coach told me just to settle down and get more arc on my shot," Ulis said. "I did that. We lost our focus a little bit. But I was able to get it back together and stay composed. It means a lot. We get to make history."
The Tribe then needed help to reach its first league final since 1983.
Tatyana McNeal (17 points, 14 rebounds) was called for a foul with 1.3 seconds to go as Irish guard Jessica Minnfield drove toward the foul line.
But Minnfield missed both free throws and McNeal's final rebound sealed the win.
"[Rebounding] was big because if we didn't keep them off the glass we would've lost the game," McNeal said. "We just try to stay focused and stay humble with it. We did it with intensity, energy and our defense."
Waite was 52-44 with 1:56 left when Lakina Cleveland hit two free throws.
But Waite had 12 fourth-quarter turnovers and missed 10 of 14 foul shots before Ulis ended a string of five misses.
Central missed 10 of 12 free throws in the final 3:51.
Still, Mallory Strall capped an 8-0 Irish run on a put-back with 13.6 seconds to go.
Including a loss to Notre Dame in overtime in the 1996 CL title game, Central entered with a 99-2 record in league and league-playoff games over the last 10 seasons.
How did Waite coach Manny May keep his cool while his team was losing its lead?
"The man upstairs," May said. "He keeps me poised all the time. The same with the kids. I tell them to stay poised, no matter if there's adversity or whatever. You're going to have turnovers because they're still kids. And we missed a lot of free throws, and that's nerves and not taking your time and making the shots.''
Minnfield led Central with 15 points, and Lisa Scott, Brittany Murrell and Strall added 10 apiece.
In the second game, Notre Dame beat Bowsher at the line.
The Eagles were only 12-of-24 at the line, Bowsher sank just 5-of-14, and missed eight in the fourth quarter.
"When you get in that situation at the end, in big games against great teams, you've got to convert the foul shots," Eagles coach Rhett Boyd said. "If you don't, that'll kill you. We made enough there at the end and had a big enough lead to hold on.
"We talked all year about how competitive this league was and tonight it showed. Both lower seeds won. We're proud to be a part of it."
Freshman guard Patrice Lalor, who topped NDA with 13 points, hit two free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining to make Lamesha Johnson's 3-pointer for Bowsher at the final buzzer irrelevant.
The Eagles got 10 points apiece from Heather Wiczynski and Mallory Myers and eight from Kristen Kerscher.
Bowsher (13-5) was led by 13 from Stephany Johnson and eight each from Lamesha Johnson, Dominique Gregory and Lauren Crockett.
The Rebels took a 31-29 lead on Crockett's 3-pointer to start the fourth, but NDA went up for good (35-34) on Wiczynski's 3-pointer with 4:14 remaining.
Kelsey Netter scored 14 points and Libby Overley had 10 as visiting Ottawa Hills (7-11, 4-7 TAAC) won 50-25 at Maumee Valley.
Mariana Brandman led Maumee Valley (2-14, 0-8) with 12.