COLUMBIANA - A nine-year championship drought for the Columbiana girls basketball team has come to an end.
Viewed as frontrunners for the Inter-Tri County League lower tier championship all season long, the Clippers applied strong pressure on Wellsville and cruised to a 60-38 victory on Saturday, giving the Clippers a share of its first-ever lower tier championship and its first league championship since winning the Tri-County League title in 2005.
The Clippers (20-2, 14-1) clinched a share along with Western Reserve who defeated Sebring on Saturday. The Devils and Clippers split the regular season series against each other.
"We knew that if we won tonight, we would do something big and something that hasn't been done in a lot of years," senior Aleah Whitacre said. "We just had to come out strong and stay confident."
Whitacre, who contributed with 14 points and nine rebounds, remembered the long road during her Clipper career.
"We weren't very good a couple years ago," Whitacre said. "We worked tremendously hard to be where we are now, and it just shows that if you work hard, your results are met."
The same sentiment was felt by junior Baylie Mook who scored a game-high 16 points.
"We used to be the stomping ground of all of the ITCL," Mook said. "Everyone used to kill us. It's our time to shine now."
Mook noted how the team worked hard since the team's Dec. 9 loss to Western Reserve.
"Once we went through Western Reserve, we watched film and went over how we could (improve our zone defense)," Mook said. "Our main focus is defense because that's what wins games."
Columbiana coach Ron Moschella joined last season as the Clippers went to the lower tier. He remembered last season's disappointment - particularly to getting swept by champions Lowellville - and the improvement the team made since last season.
"We had two tough games with Lowellville and lost them," Moschella said. "After that, they had goals of winning the lower tier, then they had goals of winning a district title and so on. This is something new for this team in terms of focus and everything."
The top-seeded Clippers now gear up for tournament action in the Division IV sectional tournament as it hosts McDonald, whom the Clippers have defeated twice this season.
Meanwhile, the Tigers (14-8, 9-5) had trouble finding an answer to pressure from the Clippers. Ashley Bennett led the Tigers with 10 points, but coach Ed Swoger knew it was going to be difficult with the Clippers.
"We missed a ton of shots," Swoger said. "It was a seven-point game at halftime then it turned into 20 points. There were just a lot of points left on the floor."
The fourth-seeded Tigers also gear up for tournament action as the Tigers host seventh-seeded first-round opponent Crestview on Wednesday in a Div. IV sectional opener.
"We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing," Swoger said. "We're not going to stray from who we are. We need to get better at what we're doing."
Tipoffs for the sectional games are set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
This is the fourth league championship for Columbiana and first as an Inter-Tri County League member. The Clippers' last league championship was in 2005 winning their third-straight Tri-County League championship.
Brittany Clendenning and Kira Kelley both fouled out for the Tigers in the fourth quarter. Clendenning scored seven points, and Kelley had six.
Columbiana won the junior varsity game 57-19. Mariah Rovnak led the Clippers with 10 points, while Destiny Crow scored seven for the Tigers.
The winner of the Crestview-Wellsville game will face ninth-seeded Lisbon Feb. 22.
The 50/50 raffle prize was $45.
WELLSVILLE SCORING: Sabrina Thompson 1-0-2, Brittany Clendenning 3-1-7, Shartece Taylor 3-0-7, Kallee Powell 1-0-2, Kira Kelley 1-4-6, Destiny Crow 2-0-4, Ashley Bennett 5-0-10. TEAM TOTALS: 16, 5-12: 38.
COLUMBIANA SCORING: Baylie Mook 6-4-16, Aleah Whitacre 5-4-14, Bri Gingher 2-2-8, Lauren Schluetter 2-1-5, Mollie Donnelly 0-1-1, Emily Witmer 4-5-13, Elise Hammond 0-0-0, Haley Tohm 1-0-2, Mariah Rovnak 0-0-0, Brynn Pennell 0-0-0, Taylor Simms 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 20, 18-29: 60
Three-point goals: Wellsville 1 (Taylor), Columbiana 2 (Gingher 2).