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Published: Sunday, 3/21/2010

Waite girls fall short in state final

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Trying to win the first state girls basketball championship in 29 years by a City League team, the Waite Indians staged a furious fourth-quarter rally only to fall short Saturday night.

Canton McKinley escaped with a 49-47 victory in the Division I final at Value City Arena.

The Indians (24-3), who had hit a crucial snag in the second quarter to fall behind 30-17, forced the Lady Pups (25-3) into 11 fourth-quarter turnovers in rallying to take the lead twice in the final three minutes.

But it was not to be for Waite, despite a phenomenal performance by 6-foot-3 All-American Natasha Howard, who filled the stat sheet with 23 points, 14 rebounds, eight steals, four blocked shots, and two assists.

Howard was not around at the bitter end however, fouling out with 6.6 seconds to play and her team down 49-47 after McKinley's Ameryst Alston hit one of the two subsequent free throws.

Howard's 6-2 junior teammate Shanice McNeal (12 points, 11 rebounds) did get a last crack at a tie, when Surya Gaffney fouled her as time expired. Needing to hit both foul shots to force overtime, McNeal missed the first try and McKinley had its first girls state title.

"It is heart-wrenching to lose a game at the free-throw line at the end of the game," Waite coach Manny May said. "But, if we made more free throws and didn't turn the ball over early in the game, it wouldn't have come down to that.

"I feel real bad for [McNeal], to have to go through that emotional thing right there. But, if it had to be somebody, I would let it be her, because that's something she can learn from being a junior, and come back and fight next year."

Alston, a sophomore guard, led the Lady Pups with 22 points, and teammate Sydnee Penn added 15.

Sixth-ranked Waite was playing in its first state final.

For three quarters, McKinley seemed to have an answer for everything Waite threw at it, turning the ball over just six times. But the fourth quarter was another story.

"That's where we pride ourselves is on defense, and we really came back and fought back after halftime," May said. "The kids really bought into it in the second half and buckled down on defense. We're very proud of them."

Still down 42-34 after an Alston free throw with 4:29 to play, Howard's play on the press sparked an 11-2 Waite run, which closed on senior guard Miriah Haynes' three-point play for a 45-44 lead with 2:42 to play.

After the Pups tied the game, Howard's steal and layup put the Indians up for the last time at 47-45 with

1:47 left.

"She played very hard and she didn't want to lose," May said of Howard's heroics. "She put her teammates on her back, and they rose to the challenge and played with her.

"It was a testament to her fortitude for four years at Waite High School."

Penn hit two free throws to tie it at 47 with 1:37 left, and the Indians had a chance to win the game.

But they got a jumper in the lane from Howard that rimmed out, McNeal missed on the put-back attempt, and Howard was called for an over-the-back foul that sent McKinley's Laneisha Lennon to the line with 18.1 seconds left.

"We had a good look for Natasha and Shanice at that time, and we just couldn't make it," May said.

Lennon hit one of the two foul shots for what proved to be the winning point.

Waite was 18-of-42 (43 percent) from the field, 11-of-20 from the line and equaled McKinley's 32 rebounds. The Pups were 17-of-45 (38 percent) from the field, 12-of-20 from the line and matched Waite's 17 turnovers.

"We had places where we usually convert, on layups and jump shots, and they just didn't go in for us tonight," May said. "They had some ill-advised shots at times, but that didn't dictate the game."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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