Hardwood Heroes

Our Caleb McCleskey breaks down the matchup between the Athens Lady Bulldogs and Sheridan Lady Generals on February 20th, 2023

Athens Lady Bulldogs fall to Sheridan after sectional championship

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – With a sectional championship title under each of their belts, the Athens Lady Bulldogs (15-9, 10-2) squared off with the Sheridan Generals (22-2, 15-1) in Piketon, Ohio. 

 The Bulldogs would take home a loss of 73-49.  

 However, the loss of the district semifinal title was not the sole focal point of the night. The 2022-2023 basketball season for the Lady Bulldogs was historic.  


In this season alone, the girls finished with the most wins in a season and the highest Tri-Valley Conference (TVC) finish since the 2014-2015 season. Both on the road and in McAfee Gymnasium, they secured 15 wins to their name and took home second place in the conference.   

Not to mention, their sectional championship win against Jackson on Feb. 16 was their first since the 2014-2015 season.  

Head coach Phil Koska said he could not be more proud of the historic season with his girls.  

“It’s been a while since these things have happened and the girls were excited about that,” Koska said. “We tried to remind them of all those things going into tonight.” 

Coming into the district semifinal matchup, the Lady Bulldogs sat on the bracket as the 11-seed and the Generals as the third-seed. The pressure was prominent going into the contest.  

The Generals’ starting lineup was upperclassmen heavy and stacked with height. Both areas the Lady Bulldogs cannot compete with just yet considering the only senior on the team is in their starting five.  

After tip-off, it was a slow start. The Lady Bulldogs suffered a three-minute scoring drought where the Generals would knock in 11 points of their own. 

Sheridan’s junior forward Nora Saffell shot buckets from virtually anywhere. Standing at six-foot, her height was unmatched on the Lady Bulldog’s end. Saffell would lead the Generals into the second quarter 14-8. 

In the second quarter, Sheridan’s game beyond the arc was unmatched. Sheridan hit a stride and went on a 30-11 run.  

Heading into the locker rooms, Koska and the girls revamped their defensive play. Bringing it to the top of their to-do list if they wanted to stay in the game. 

Koska said Sheridan’s defense was out of their ballpark. 

“It was defensive lapses and that’s what got us,” said Koska. “They’re a very good basketball team, they’re very smooth defensively. They know exactly what they want to do and where to go.” 

Ready to start fresh, the Lady Bulldogs started strong in the third quarter and made it a back-and-forth affair. But consistent turnovers widened the score even further.  

Collectively, Athens totaled 12 turnovers. 

Sophomore shooting guard Asa Holcombe found some firepower in the third. Holcombe went for 12 points and two rebounds. 

But a solo guard can only do so much alone. Holcombe and company finished the third quarter in a struggle 62-35.  

The fourth quarter was set in stone, but Athens still had something to prove in this postseason push.  

Freshman point guard Ella Chapman went for 18 points, seven rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block. 

Freshman small forward Olivia Smart had 12 points of her own and two rebounds.  

As the minutes waned on the Piketon scoreboard, the Sheridan Generals ran the clock and took home the district semifinal title back to Thornville, Ohio, with a final score of 73-49. 

Despite the tough loss, Koska spoke highly of his girls squad.  

“This is just a hardworking group of kids,” said Koska. “There’s not a kid on this team that doesn’t work hard in practice. They earned a lot of respect from us being such a young group. It’s a shame the season is over.”  

The Lady Bulldogs season came to a close on Feb. 20 in the district semifinal game, but Koska said he is ready to get back in the gym for next year and win the TVC. 

“We want to win our league,” said Koska. “The sectional championship was great, but for the kids, we want to win the TVC.”