The St. Paul girls basketball team led 29-26 over Firelands Conference foe South Central in a back-and-forth first half. Danielle Smith then got a clean look from the right wing in the closing seconds.
The sophomore drained a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left just before the halftime buzzer. That seemed to spark the Lady Flyers, who then opened the third quarter on a 17-6 scoring run in a 64-43 win over the Trojans in Saturday’s Division IV sectional championship game at Shelby High School.
With the win, St. Paul (17-6) advanced to Thursday’s 8 p.m. district semifinal at Willard High School, where it will match up with No. 1 seed Buckeye Central (20-3) in a rematch of an overtime district championship game in 2017.
“When I hit it, you could sense that everyone was feeling it then,” Smith said of her big three. She connected on four in the game. “Everyone was like, ‘We got this, we can do it and push through.’ It felt like it was almost for our own confidence more than anything.”
Megan Hammersmith put St. Paul up eight (34-26) less than 12 seconds into the second half. The Trojans (10-12) got consecutive baskets from Ellery McKee and Ally Burton to get within 34-30 at the 5:45 mark of the third — but never did get the deficit back to a single-possession after the Smith shot.
“I thought the first half was very even, both teams made shots and did things defensively,” South Central coach John Vogel said. “But the Smith girl really hurt us there.”
Hammersmith and Anna Lukasko both scored inside off turnovers, then Smith made another 3-pointer to put the Lady Flyers up 41-30 with 4:03 left in the third. A basket by Bailey Mitchell trimmed the deficit to 41-32, but it was the last time the Trojans were within single digits again.
St. Paul closed the quarter by scoring 11 of the final 16 points in the eight minutes, as the two seniors the team, Lauren Chandler and Kati Kamann, each scored.
Leading 52-37 entering the fourth quarter, Hammersmith opened the final eight minutes with a three-point play — then Smith and Camille Endsley scored on easy layups to blow the game open at 59-37 with 6:15 left.
“The start of the second half, St. Paul just went off on us,” Vogel said. “They adjusted defensively and we struggled to make shots. They did a good job of running their offense, and we got beat up the floor and they got some easier baskets.
“When you let a team like St. Paul do that and get going, they are a hard team to handle,” he added.
Smith had a game-high 15 points for St. Paul, while Chandler had 12 points and six rebounds. Endsley added 11 points and six rebounds, while Hammersmith had 11 points and five boards. Kamann had seven points and six rebounds.
Chandler also helped spark St. Paul in other areas. She forced an over-and-back call at halfcourt, then less than 10 seconds made a 3 late in the first quarter. Chandler then dove to the floor and saved a loose ball that set up Smith for the inside score early in the fourth quarter as St. Paul pulled away.
“We’re a team, and every time I hustle, I know it’s for my teammates,” Chandler said. “Tonight, it was under the mindset that it could be my last game. I was going to try and do as much as I could to help win this game.”
McKee finished with 14 points for South Central, and Ally Burton added eight points and nine rebounds.
The two teams had just played 10 days prior in Greenwich, and St. Paul pulled away in the fourth quarter of a 48-41 win on Feb. 14.
On Saturday, it was tight again early in the third quarter before St. Paul pulled away.
“One of the adjustments (at halftime) was to come out with some intensity, and that’s what we did as far as working the ball and rebounding better,” St. Paul coach Vicky Mahl said. “Good passing, and for the most part, good shot selection also helped us. But just think switching up defenses caused some issues for them.
“But we played hard and intense in the second half, which is just a credit to the kids,” she added. “They kept fighting after some foul trouble in the first half. I told them to let it go and just play. If you foul out, you foul out — and we’ll figure out.”
As for Thursday’s matchup with the Buckettes, who beat Sycamore Mohawk, 57-28 in the nightcap on Saturday, Mahl knows it will be a tall order.
Buckeye beat St. Paul, 70-64, in overtime in the district title game two years ago — and advanced all the way to the state semifinals last season.
“They are a really good team. They don’t go real deep either, kind of like us, but also have three very good players, and the rest fill in,” Mahl said. “We have to come and play our hardest.
“It’s obviously win or go home, and I think these girls are capable,” she added. “We’ll get back at it on Monday and see what happens.”
SOUTH CENTRAL (10-12)
Bailey Mitchell 2-1—5; Chesnee Pope 1-0—3; Holly Hale 1-4—6; Ellery McKee 4-5—14; Courtney Shepherd 2-0—5; Ally Burton 1-6—8; Ashley Copus 0-2—2. TOTALS 11-22—43.
ST. PAUL (17-6)
Anna Lukasko 2-0—4; Megan Hammersmith 5-1—11; Camille Endsley 3-3—11; Danielle Smith 5-1—15; Brooke Houck 1-1—4; Kati Kamann 3-1—7; Lauren Chandler 4-1—12. TOTALS 23-8—64.
S. Central 11 15 11 6 — 43
St. Paul 15 17 20 12 — 64
3-point FGs: (SC) Pope, McKee, Shepherd; (STP) Smith 4, Chandler 3, Endsley 2, Houck