By GARY R. RASBERRY
COLUMBUS — What was anticipated to be a close battle was exactly that.
Minster had just one player score points in the fourth quarter, but the eight points Bridget Slonkosky put up were enough to hold off the Berlin Hiland codege and put the Wildcats in the Division IV state championship game with the 48-43 win at the Schottenstein Center on Friday.
“It was really what I expected in terms of being a hard-fought game,” said Minster coach Nann Stechschulte. “(Hiland coach Dave Schlabach) is a good friend of mine and they run a first-class program. We scrimmage every year, what are the odds of us meeting again? I knew it was going to be that kind of game. I knew everyone was going to get after it and if there was a loose ball everyone would be on the floor.”
The Wildcats, now 25-2, will play Mansfield St. Peter’s in the state finals today at 5 p.m. St. Peter’s, state semifinalists the past two seasons, ended the perfect season of Miller City in the first semifinal of the day with a 54-45 win to improve to 24-2.
Minster had as much as a 12-point lead in the first half but saw the Hawks (25-2) start the second half with an 8-0 run to take their first lead since the first quarter at 31-30 with 6:21 left to go in the third quarter. Minster got the lead back and held a small lead for the rest of the quarter.
“To be honest, they took us out of our offense,” said Stechschulte. “I don’t know how many sets we tried to run, but in the end I ran all four out and let them create. That was probably the best thing we did.”
Hiland tied things up at 40-all 24 seconds into the final quarter. Then for the next three minutes, both teams traded possessions with no scores to show for it. Minster finally got the scoring back on track when Slonkosky hit a pair of free throws with 3:45 left to make it 42-40 in favor of the Wildcats. Leah Hochstetler gave the Hawks the lead back with a long three-pointer with 3:29 left.
Minster worked the ball cautiously around the perimeter in an attempt to find the best possible shot, but missed that attempt.
Hiland, on the otherhand, couldn’t capitalize on its ensuing possession and was unable to add to the lead.
On Minster’s next possession, Slonkosky retrieved an offensive rebound off a missed shot and hit a jumper with 1:25 left to put the Wildcats back up for good at 44-43. The Hawks tried to hit a three-pointer but missed on three straight possessions and Minster got the ball back into the hands of Slonkosky, who made four straight free throws in the final 24 seconds to ice the game.
Minster won the game primarily with its rebounding, outboarding the Hawks, 30-23. It was only the second time this season that Hiland lost the rebounding battle to its opponent.
“We knew the battle for the boards was going to be big,” said Schlabach. “We’re really proud of the kids. The second half, I thought we played as hard defensively as we have all year. We put ourselves in position but a couple of possessions, when we were one-up and when we were one-down, we couldn’t quite execute and get the job done.”
“That was the difference in the game,” said Stechschulte. “I think it came down to that (rebounding), really.”
Minster also did the job on the foul line. After making just 7-of-18 in the regional final win over Fort Loramie, the Wildcats made 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) in the game, including 8-of-10 in the second half and all six tries in the final quarter.
“I think they do that just to make my hair turn gray,” said Stechschulte with laugh. “We talked about it before the game, 10-for-14, I’ll take that.”
Slonkosky led the Wildcats with 11 points while Hoying scored 10 to go with nine rebounds.
Launa Hochstetler led all players with 15 points while Leah Hochstetler, her twin sister, finished with 12.