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In their quest to get back to Columbus, the Start Spartans, last year's Division I girls basketball runners-up, were hoping the third time would be the charm Saturday night.
And, early in the third quarter, it appeared the seventh-ranked Spartans might have a chance to avenge two earlier losses to sixth-ranked Waite.
Instead, it was the Indians who came alive and made it 3-for-3 this year against Start, taking a 54-42 victory in the district championship game before a crowd of 2,000 at Perrysburg High School.
Senior guard Miriah Haynes sparked a crucial third-quarter run for the Indians (21-2), scoring 10 of her game-high 20 points in that period and lifting Waite from a 28-21 deficit to a 37-35 lead entering the fourth.
Down the stretch, the City League champions retained their defensive momentum, and iced things with 11-of-19 shooting from the foul line.
All-American Natasha Howard, Waite's 6-3 forward, drew plenty of defensive attention for the Spartans, but managed 13 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out with 54.5 seconds remaining and her team on top 50-39.
"It feels so good right now," Howard said. "I'm a senior, and we have five seniors, and we told each other we're not going down. We're going to take this all the way.
"We counted on each other on the court and off."
Waite will face Lorain Southview in Tuesday's
6:15 p.m. regional semifinal at Norwalk. Perrysburg (17-6), which upset third-ranked and previously unbeaten Marion Harding yesterday, will play Brecksville-Broadview Heights in Tuesday's 8 p.m. semifinal at Norwalk.
"The second quarter we were in foul trouble and we weren't being patient in our offense," Waite coach Manny May said. "In the third quarter we came out with a little more intensity. Not as much as I wanted, but we really started to force some turnovers when we were changing defenses."
Shanice McNeal, Waite's 6-2 junior forward, shook off first-half foul trouble to contribute five points and 12 rebounds.
By beating Start (18-5) for the third time this season, Waite avenged its three losses to the Spartans last season, including a 65-50 loss for the district title on the same court. The Indians, who reached the regionals in 2006, also fell in a district final at Perrysburg in 2008.
After taking a 14-13 lead after one quarter, Waite hit a dryspell in the second quarter, and the Spartans capitalized for a 25-21 halftime lead.
When Start junior guard Maleeka Kynard (five points) hit a 3-pointer to open the third-quarter scoring, the Spartans appeared to have the Indians on the run, up 28-21.
But Haynes sparked a game-changing 12-2 Waite surge, and the Indians would never again trail.
"I just knew my team needed me at the time," Haynes said. "We all have our own roles. We have Natasha Howard, and she does what she does on the court.
"But they were really on her [defensively], so that opened up a lot of opportunities for us, and we knew we had to make big shots."
Start's last tie came at 33 on a three-point play from junior Jaime Williams with 3:12 left in the third. The Spartans' undoing was their 10 third-quarter turnovers.
During one critical part of the game spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, Start missed 10 of 11 shots from the field.
"I really don't know how it got away," Start coach Bob Brown said. "We were doing what we wanted and then we just started turning the ball over, and then we couldn't make a shot."
"We had trouble against their zone. They're pretty darn good and they just made some plays, and we didn't make the plays."
Junior forward Azia Bishop topped Start with nine points and 10 rebounds. Senior Tiffani Blackman and freshman Charon Sweeney added eight points apiece.
Waite was 17-of-42 from the field, 19-of-27 from the line, and outrebounded Start 34-30. The Spartans were 18-of-55 from the field, 5-of-12 from the line, and committed 23 turnovers while forcing 20.