The Crimson Flashes did not lose the belief that they can win the Bay, though.
“I thought we played great defense. If we had shot the ball a little better here and there, different outcome,” Willard coach Barry Pfahl said. “I told the girls afterward I’m looking forward to them coming to Willard.”
The two SBC heavyweights will meet again Feb. 13 in Willard in the Flashes’ regular-season finale.
Willard fell to 10-3, 4-1 in the Bay with Saturday’s loss while Margaretta, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press Division III state poll, improved to 13-1, 6-0.
“We did what we wanted to do, but didn’t get some shots to fall,” Pfahl said. “I attribute that to Margaretta. They’re just very aggressive and don’t let you do what you normally want to do.”
Willard did what it wanted to do for much of the game. After falling behind by eight points in the first quarter, the Flashes leaned on 6-foot-1 junior Presley Feltner to take a 30-27 halftime lead. Feltner scored eight of her 14 points in the second quarter. She finished with 13 rebounds, eight in the first half.
A basket by Kalli Sowers off a Margaretta turnover gave Willard its first lead at 27-25 with 1:14 left in the second quarter.
Cassie Crawford led Willard with 17 points — nine in the fourth quarter to keep her team within striking distance.
“Cassie is a premier player; she can take over the game,” Pfahl said. “Cassie a lot of times doesn’t have to take over the game because if we can get the ball inside, Presley is a great scorer and rebounder.
“Our problems came when they started to make substitutions we end up with five little Margaretta players on the floor and we have to find a way to combat with a big kid on the floor.”
Margaretta neutralized Feltner in the second half by pushing the tempo with a three-quarter-court press. Still, the Flashes led 41-35 with four minutes left in the third quarter when Crawford made a pair of free throws.
A quick 7-0 run by Margaretta gave the Polar Bears a 42-41 lead. The Flashes’ last lead in the game came at 45-44 with 1:05 left in the third on Feltner’s only basket of the quarter.
Margaretta answered with a 6-0 run and kept the lead for the entire fourth quarter by spreading out its offense, driving to the lane and finding open players for easy shots.
A Crawford bucket with 4:51 to play brought Willard to within 54-52, but Jayden Moore found Devyne Eisenhauer open for a layup to make it 56-52. With 2:44 to play, Moore again penetrated and found Eisenhauer for an easy basket to give the Bears a 60-53 lead.
Eisenhauer scored all 14 of her points in the second half. Taylor Malson led Margaretta with 16 points and freshman Kylie Leibacher added 12 points and some timely ball handling. The Bears made five free throws in the final two minutes to keep the Flashes at bay.
Mckenna Stephens was the third Willard player to hit double figures with 13 points.
“I was pleased with the way we played,” Pfahl said. “We gave up a bunch of backdoors on the baseline. If we would have adjusted to that … I take responsibility for that. I can go back and name 57 things that I could’ve done differently that would’ve put us in a better position to win.”
Both teams adjusted well to the new court at Cedar Point Sports Center, which drew a capacity crowd for the first varsity high school game at the facility.
“Strange” was how Pfahl’s described the atmosphere on the center’s debut to the public, which included giveaways, music and other entertainment.
“If there was a big wall to separate you from the rest of the chaos out here it would be a normal kind of thing,” Pfahl said. “The way the seats are, you don’t get noise going down. It’s a whole lot better than Margaretta’s home gym. I would play them here every year as much as I don’t necessarily like it.”
WILLARD (10-3, 4-1)
Kalli Sowers 3-1—8, Layla Dials 3-3—9, Mckenna Stephens 4-5—13, Cassie Crawford 5-5—17, Presley Feltner 6-2—14. TOTALS 21-16—61.
MARGARETTA (13-1, 6-0)
Elliana Schaefer 3-0—8, Taylor Malson 5-6—16, Jayden Moore 3-2—9, Devyne Eisenhauer 7-0—14, Kylie Leibacher 2-7—12, Jaelle Keller 1-0—2. TOTALS 23-15—65.
Willard 13 17 15 16 — 61
Margaretta 19 8 19 19 — 65
3-point FGs: (W) Crawford 2, Sowers; (M) Schaefer 2, Moore 1, Leibacher 1