THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
If one big early blow was not enough to take Central Catholic out of contention in Wednesday night's City League girls basketball semifinals, an even bigger one after halftime did the trick for Waite.
The Indians, who shot out to a 20-3 lead on Central in the game's first 5:17, got a bit careless in allowing the Irish to get within 12 early in the third quarter.
But that's when Waite (17-2) fired things up for a 33-11 third-quarter dismantling, and ultimately cruised to an 82-50 victory on its home floor.
Senior Natasha Howard, the 6-foot-3 standout who will play in the prestigious McDonald's All-American game next month, scored 12 of her game-high 24 points during Waite's game-breaking third quarter before being rested for the final eight minutes. She also grabbed 11 rebounds.
When the fourth quarter began, the Indians owned a 75-39 lead on the strength of sizzling 30-of-47 (64 percent) shooting from the field to that point.
"At halftime the coaches just told us to slow down and be patient, on defense and offense, like we're supposed to," Howard said. "We have a lot of balance. It was real good to have other teammates come into the game and score for us.
"We just have to come out mentally, physically, and with a lot of energy [in Saturday's final]. If we do that, we'll play like we did two weeks ago."
Miriah Haynes added 17 points for Waite, Shanice McNeal contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, and Jasmine Hamdan came off the bench to supply 12 points on four 3-pointers.
"We got out to a big lead and then we got careless," Waite coach Manny May said. "The kids didn't take care of their jobs and finish off that first half. But, hat's off to Central. Their kids kept on fighting through that stretch.
"Central was making a run in that second quarter and we had to regroup at halftime and tell them, ‘Look, it's time to play basketball. It's not time to be fooling around.'"
The win sets up a rematch between the Indians, who were 11-0 during league play, and defending CL champion and Division I state runner-up Start (16-3, 10-1) in Saturday's 3 p.m. City Championship game.
Waite beat the Spartans 66-46 at home on Feb. 3. Start advanced to the final by beating Notre Dame 47-34 in last night's second semifinal. The Indians, CL champions from 2005-07, will be playing in their sixth straight City final. Start beat them 58-51 in last year's title game at Central.
Central (10-9) was led by Jamie Sobczak and Alexxis Knannlein, who scored 11 points apiece, and Jalyn Lathan and Sierra Calhoun added nine points each.
Waite forced seven Irish turnovers in the opening quarter, while surging to a 12-1 lead out of the gate. The Indians pushed it to 20-3 on two Courtney Jackson free throws with 2:43 left in the period.
Central, which closed the first quarter down 24-11, got within 27-14 on a 3-pointer from Sydney Shaffer early in the second, and the Irish would pull within 34-25 on Courtney Walker's 16-footer 1:44 before halftime.
The Irish started the third quarter down 42-28 and were within 44-32 before Waite launched its big offensive assault on Howard's driving layup 1:04 into the third. When Hamdan capped the Indians' scoring on her final 3-pointer of the game, Waite had outscored the Irish 31-7 in a span of 6:32.
"It gets back to our reluctance to go 100 percent for 32 minutes," Irish coach Steve Pfahler said of his team's third-quarter slide. "Until they get this down — whether it's this year, next year, or the following years — we're just going to struggle like this.
"Waite is a very fine basketball team and we would have had to play especially well just to stay within reach. But, I thought our kids would've had a little bit more fire coming in at halftime only down 14. We traded baskets in the beginning of the third quarter and then all of a sudden we just went to sleep."
For the game, the Indians' 2-for-14 shooting during garbage time in the fourth quarter brought their totals to 32-of-61 from the field, including 6-of-12 on 3-pointers. Waite was 12-of-16 from the line, outrebounded Central 41-36 and forced 25 turnovers while committing 21. The Irish were 19-of-61 from the field and 9-of-14 from the line.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.