Big Walnut used a 15-1 run in the first half to gain control in a 57-44 victory over Licking Heights in the second round of the Division I district tournament Tuesday night in Sunbury.
It was a night of first for the 18th-seeded Golden Eagles. They picked up their first tournament victory since 2013 (when they were at the Division II level) as a first-time host in head coach Steve Palmer’s tenure.
“It’s a great feeling – we’ve worked really hard over the season,” senior Kelly Kreager said. “We have the desire … that’s what makes us a good, scrappy team – we’ll dive for those loose balls.”
Kreager came off the bench and scored 12 of her game-high 20 points in the first half as BW took control. She added five rebounds and four steals to her stat line for the game.
“I was really fired up and ready to play for my team,” Kreager said. “As a senior, I’m facing my last games – so, I just had something to play for.”
Katie Neff found Erin Boehm for an and-one basket to give BW the lead for good at 11-8 late in the first quarter. The Eagles led 12-8 after one.
BW held the visiting Hornets without a basket from the field for the first six minutes and 47 seconds of the second quarter as the Eagles (15-8) pushed the lead to as many as 14.
Kortnie Starr’s three-pointer with 1:13 left in the half finally ended the drought for Licking Heights, which had six free throws to account for its scoring to that point. BW led 29-21 at the break.
Kreager scored BW’s first two baskets, which included a three-pointer to build a 34-23 lead early in the third quarter.
“(Kreager) realized where the soft spots were in the zone,” Palmer said. “They’re a tough team to dribble-drive. So, Kelly was good enough as a senior to say, ‘OK, I’m not going to take that extra dribble into traffic. I’m going to take this 6-, 8-, 10-footer not contested. That was good on her part.”
Kaitlin Thompson knocked down a three-pointer and Emily Swisher followed with a basket and then converted a three-point play to cut it to 34-31 midway through the third.
BW converted a pair of put-back, first by Boehm and then Emily Neff two possessions later.
Boehm ran down a long rebound and tipped it to Emily Neff, who knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key at the third-quarter buzzer to give the Eagles a 41-34 lead.
“I thought our patience on offense was a little better,” Palmer said. “(Neff’s three) was kind of a wounded duck, too – it hit (the rim and) died. That was big, though – a little momentum.”
Licking Heights got as close as four in the final period. But, Boehm took over for BW. She scored 10 in the final stanza, which included a 6-for-7 effort at the foul line to put things out of reach.
Boehm finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass for the Eagles. Katie Cochran added six rebounds and three steals.
“(Boehm) has really stepped up and become our point guard and our leader,” Kreager said. “It’s important to have a person on your team that you can rely on to make things happen.”
“I think she was just determined,” Palmer said. “That’s the Erin Boehm we want to see and that’s the Erin Boehm we think she can be … just driven. She played lights out.”
Jordin Spears led the Hornets (14-9) with 18 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals, Swisher added eight points, four rebounds and three steals and Alyssa Jordan led with 12 rebounds to go with six points.
BW advances to play second-seeded Dublin Coffman or 45th-seeded Westland in the district semifinal Mar. 1 at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.