Waterford Gives All in Final Game< < Back to
The Waterford Wildcats (17-7) certainly had their doubters at the beginning of the season. But by the time the final buzzer sounded at the end of their Thursday night game against the first-seeded Coal Grove Hornets (19-6), nobody was scoffing at the Wildcats. Even in defeat, as Waterford fell 56-61, the team held their head high knowing that they had nothing to be ashamed of.
“It’s been the greatest. I wouldn’t ask for it to be with anybody else,” senior Peyton Stephens said after the game. “I mean, we’ve got a great fan base, great teammates, just everybody around us supports us. Some people didn’t think we’d make it as far as we did; we turned it around, made the best of this season.”
Stephens led his team in assists Thursday with five, and his Wildcats pounced on the Hornets early, clamping down on defense and leading 16-10 after one quarter of play. Coal Grove, though, was able to find their rhythm and find more success on offense, cutting the lead to three at halftime before taking a 45-44 lead that they would not relinquish at the end of the third after a buzzer-beating floater from Jaylen McKenzie.
Waterford stayed in the game until the very end, buoyed by hard attacks to the rim that put the Wildcats on the line often in the final quarter. The two teams went back and forth for the final minutes, as Coal Grove’s lead continuously waxed and waned between four points to two as the Wildcats and Hornets seemed to either both get scores or both get stops.
Waterford checked off many of the boxes as far as keys to the game. They limited the Hornets’ shooters, took care of the ball and, for the first half at least, controlled the glass. The times they did slip up and turn the ball over, Coal Grove proved incredibly efficient in getting out and getting good shots in transition, showing why Waterford was so dedicated to taking care of the ball.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Zane Heiss, who could not be contained from beyond the arc Thursday, knocking down five of his six deep tries.
Holden Dailey and Russell Young also scored in double figures, as Dailey added 11 points while Young put in 12 points and nine rebounds.
For the top-seeded Hornets, Aaron Music showed out on both sides of the court, racking up 20 points on only 14 shots, and snagging four steals.
Until the last second, the Wildcats played with a passion and togetherness that head coach Tom Simms commented on after the game.
“This group just came together, created that chemistry,” Simms said. “And the best part about them, there was no pressure; they didn’t see pressure, they didn’t see expectations, they just wanted to go play basketball and that’s what they said before we started, ‘let’s just go play.’”
Simms made clear how proud he was of his team, and how hard he thought they played Thursday against a higher-seeded opponent.
“We were right there, it was just a couple little runs, make a couple foul shots, but it’s a great team effort, it’s a great nucleus,” Simms said. “There’s memories I have with every group, and this one the memories of them coming together and accomplishing things that nobody really expected them to accomplish.”
Coal Grove will play either the Hiland Hawks or the Strasburg-Franklin Tigers in the Regional Semifinals on March 12.