NORWALK - Waite had grown accustomed to poor starts and strong finishes through several of its big games this season. But in last night's girls Division I regional basketball semifinal, this time the start proved too poor and the finish not strong enough in a 61-53 loss to seventh-ranked Amherst Steele at Norwalk High School
The Indians (20-4), who never led in the game, sliced a 24-8 second-quarter Steele (23-1) lead down to four points before halftime only to let things slip back to a 36-25 halftime deficit.
Then, in the second half, Waite trimmed the Comets' lead to 49-45 midway in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer.
Aside from its own failure to effectively utilize its trademark full-court press, the culprit in Waite's loss was Steele senior guard Audra Mihalic, who scored 20 of her game-high 30 points in the opening half, then iced things with 8-of-10 free throw shooting in the fourth quarter.
That effort was too much for the Indians to overcome, especially with Mihalic handling the pressure with her superior ball-handling ability down the stretch.
Mihalic's fine play more than offset another terrific performance by Waite junior point guard Shareese Ulis. Held scoreless in the opening quarter, the 5-7 Ulis came alive to net 18 points in the middle periods and closed with 23 points.
"We came out slow, we weren't able to get into our transition game, we weren't boxing out and they were getting all the rebounds and putting back shots," Ulis said of Waite's poor start.
"We had to use too much energy to get back, so when it was time to play defense, we had no energy left. [Mihalic] is a good player and she played a good game. I wish them the best on Saturday."
Senior forwards Tatyana McNeal and Briana Washington added 15 and eight points, respectively, for the Indians, who posted the best basketball record in Waite history, eclipsing the 19-4 mark of the 1990-91 boys team. Waite was the first City League girls public-school team to appear in a regional since 1984.
Aided by seven first-quarter Waite turnovers, the Cometsbolted to a 16-4 lead after back-to-back 3-pointers from Mihalic, the second coming with 2:34 left in the period.
"We knew coming out we had to get off to a good start," Mihalic said, because, if they started out good, it would probably carry over. We needed to get them right from the start.
"They're a team that gets on runs and they can come back in a flash. We knew we had to keep coming at them. We couldn't slow down."
Down 20-8 after eight minutes, the Indians fell back further before making a solid run at Steele. Courtney Jaruis opened the second with a put-back basket and two Mihalic free throws netted the Comets a 24-8 advantage.
"Basically they jumped on us and we didn't execute on defense as well as we needed to in the first quarter," Waite coach Manny May said.
"We allowed [Mihalic] to get off on us, and she made some big shots.
"She's a great point guard and I admired the way she played the game and ran her team tonight.
"Take nothing away from them, but we just didn't play Waite basketball tonight. They did a great job of keeping us out of Waite basketball."
Waite finally found some rhythm, turning up the defensive intensity and transition game to forge a 14-2 run.
McNeal's fast-break layup 3:37 before halftime pulled the Tribe within 26-22.
But four turnovers to close the half led to Steele's 11-point halftime edge.
Waite was 21 of 40 from the field, but only 7 of 17 from the line, and the Tribe was outrebounded 34-22.
Steele was a modest 18 of 47 from the field, but cashed in on 20 of 27 free throw attempts, and forced 16 turnovers while committing just 12.
Steele forward Callie Brutcher added 10 points and 13 rebounds.
SOLON 57, FINDLAY 26
A monstrous 35-2 run by Solon (21-3) buried Findlay in last night's first semifinal.
With the game tied at 12 with 6:00 left in the second quarter, Solon's Erin Wisner converted a three-point play to spark the decisive surge, which spanned 12:10. Shelley Warren's 10-footer from the baseline with 1:50 left in the third quarter put the Comets up 47-14.
Findlay's only points in between were two Carlee Roethlisberger free throws five seconds before halftime, and Ashley Petersen's bucket with 1:31 left in the third quarter snapped a Findlay drought of 13:21 without a field goal.
Wisner, a 6-2 sophomore, topped Solon with 18 points.
Solon was 18 of 37 from the field, 15 of 26 from the line and outrebounded the Trojans 35-16. Findlay (20-4), paced by Jonette McQueen's eight points, was 10 of 34 from the field and 5 of 7 from the line.
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