By Gary R. Rasberry
COLUMBUS — Fans wondering how dominant the Midwest Athletic Conference can be could get a good witness in Mansfield St. Peter’s girls basketball coach Daryl Uhde.
For the third straight season, a MAC team ended the Spartans’ season in the state tournament.
This time around it was the Minster Wildcats dominating the boards and coming away with the 44-33 win in the Division IV girls basketball state championship game at the Schottenstein Center.
“It’s so much sweeter than being a stat,” said senior Kristen Shenk, who kept the statistics as a sixth-grader when the Wildcats won at St. John’s Arena in 1998. “Just watching my sister (Lauren) win and filling me with the dream to go and do the same thing. It’s very ironic that as seniors, we’ve had the opportunity to go to state and won. It’s very cool.”
The title is the second for the 25-2 Wildcats, the first coming back in 1998, and the third straight by a MAC school. St. John’s won the trophy in 2001 and Marion Local brought home the gold last season.
“Whew! I think I’m at a loss for words,” said Minster coach Nann Stechschulte, who won her second title as coach at Minster in her third trip overall — she guided Cincinnati Oak Hills to the Class AAA runner-up trophy in 1986. “The whole last month has been a magic-carpet ride, courtesy of my seniors.”
Minster used rebounding and defense to overpower the Spartans. Despite St. Peter’s having three starters 6-0 or taller, the Wildcats won the board war by a 34-25 margin.
“The one statistic we were concerned about was rebounding,” said Stechschulte. “That makes me happy. That’s always the one stat we look for.”
Then there was the defense. Minster kept the big scorers for the Spartans in check for most of the game.
St. Peter’s has two state players of the year over the past two seasons, Diana Reindl (last year) — who missed a large part of the first quarter after tweaking a knee injury — and Gretchen Polinski (this season) were held to just eight and four points respectively, 18 points under their combined average of 30.7 ppg. coming into the tournament.
“I think when you get here, you’re going to have some bad offensive nights, but there’s never an excuse for a bad defensive night,” said Stechschulte. “If you want to win, you have to box out. We’ve been saying down the tournament trail Ôrebound like you want to win.’ I think that’s what we did and that was the difference in the game.
“There were different people guarding those two all the time, but it’s a team defense. We’re sagging and helping out. Everybody knew where those two were. We were definitely keying on them,” continued Stechschulte.
“Give the credit to Minster. Their defense was excellent,” said St. Peter’s coach Daryl Uhde.
The Wildcats led from the first seven seconds of the game and only lost the lead once, that coming at the 5:13 mark of the second quarter when the Spartans went up 12-11. It only took 45 seconds for Minster to get the lead back thanks to a three-pointer from Karen Brackman. From there Minster pushed the lead up quickly, taking a 22-15 lead at halftime.
Minster began to put the distance between itself and the Spartans in the third quarter. St. Peter’s got to within five points with 4:56 left in the quarter but could not score the remainder of the period as Shenk and Bridget Slonkosky hit back-to-back jumpers and freshman Danae Spieles connected with a three-pointer with 2:52 left in the quarter to put Minster up 31-19 at the end of three quarters of play.
Minster got the lead up to 15 at the start of the fourth quarter as St. Peter’s went a total of 5:06 over that span without a score. The Wildcats continued to push the lead and led by as many as 17 before time began to wind down and both coaches emptied the benches to get their players championship playing time.
“When we had that 10-0 run, we could see them dragging,” said senior Robyn Hoying. “Every time we came down, a shot went up and in. We’d go back and play defense, get a stop and come back down. Right then, I knew we were going to take this game.”
“You don’t have many answers,” said Uhde. “Offensively we struggled. I don’t think it was anything specific. “It’s sad to lose. There can be only one champion and that’s the team that wins the last game.”
“We wanted to attack,” said Stechschulte. “That was our first priority of the game. We wanted to take it to them.”
Hoying scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds in earning the Division IV Most Valuable Player award after scoring 26 points and pulling down 18 rebounds in the tournament. Slonkosky was the other Wildcat named to the all-tournament team, joining Reindl, Polinski and Berlin Hiland’s Leah Hochstetler.
Paula Bartlett was the only Spartan to have a strong offensive day, scoring 12 points to go over the 1,000-point mark in her career.