By CHRIS RAMBO
BARBERTON-Late in the third quarter of Saturday's Division II regional final, the West Branch girls basketball team was feeling good.
The Warriors had expanded their slim halftime lead over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and were in front by seven points. A trip to Columbus was feeling like more of a reality by the second. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they did not have quite enough left to finish the job.
St. Vincent-St. Mary surged back in the final two minutes of the third, took the lead for good early in the fourth and held on for a 42-36 win at Barberton High School.
The fifth-ranked Irish (26-2) advance to take on top-ranked Millersburg West Holmes (27-0) in the state semifinals at 3 p.m. Thursday at Ohio State University's Schottenstein Center, while the Warriors end their season in painful fashion at 23-5.
"We knew we were in really good shape in the third quarter and we wanted to push it," West Branch senior Taryn Hahn said. "We knew we were close, if we kept our momentum, to really putting the pressure on them, but we weren't able to keep them down."
The Warriors led 29-22 with 2:43 left in the third quarter, but the Irish tore off a 14-4 run to take a 36-33 lead with 5:25 left. West Branch got no closer the rest of the way and did not make another field goal for the remainder of the game.
"They picked up the defensive pressure on us and worked hard at keeping the ball out of the middle and in front of them," Hahn said. "We missed some shots we should have made and they made shots at key moments."
The Warriors held the Irish inside tandem of Alexis Taylor and Jordan Korinek held her to seven points and six points respectively, but guard Kiley May had 18 points to lead all scorers. Shannon Jack had eight points for the Irish while Korinek had 13 rebounds.
"Defensively we did a great job throughout the game," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "We did a great job inside despite giving up some height. We were talking well and we were rotating well."
St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Joe Jakubick's gameplan zeroed in on containing Melinda Trimmer's driving ability, which the Irish did superbly, holding the star point guard to seven points and five assists. Trimmer was scoreless in the second half, while the Warriors shot less than 30 percent from the floor.
"From what I saw, teams were picking her (Trimmer) up way too far up the court," Jakubick said. "We wanted to guard her from the three-point line on in and have our post player come and help. I knew it would leave some open three-point opportunities but I thought their other players could hurt us, not beat us."
After a tightly played first half in which neither team led by more than five points, the Warriors came out of halftime firing on all cylinders, even with Trimmer limited.
Early in the frame Amanda Linhart scored a transition layup and nailed a wide open three. while the Warriors defense forced three quick turnovers. When Pavin Heath put back a missed shot, West Branch had their seven-point lead-the largest for either team. Heath led the Warriors with 12 points and five rebounds, while Linhart had eight points
"We had a good-sized lead, but we could not close out the quarter," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "We tried holding the ball a little bit and it backfired with some turnovers."
May helped the Irish claw back into the game with a torrid finish to the third quarter. In two minutes she scored six points, had a steal and grabbed two offensive rebounds which resulted in trips to the foul line.
"That little spurt killed us," DeShields said. "We still had a one-point lead but they were feeling much better about themselves."
After Jack drained a go-ahead three with 5:43 to go, the Irish successfully burned clock the rest of the way, while the Warriors went ice-cold. Their last, best chance passed when Trimmer air-balled a three with 29 second left.
"We were worried about them getting a late lead because they are very good at keeping the ball away," DeShields said. "We maybe tried forcing some shots we shouldn't have at the end."
Second-ranked Kettering Alter and 12th-ranked Toledo Rogers are the other final four teams in Division II.
WEST BRANCH: 8-12- 9- 7-36
AKRON ST. V-M: 6-12-10-14-42
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 2-2-7, Pavin Heath 3-4-12, Amanda Linhart 3-1-8, Erica Johnson 1-0-2, Taryn Hahn 2-1-5, Lea Bock 1-0-2, Kaylee Manning 0-0-0, Catie Hahn 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 12, 8-16: 36.
ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY: Shannon Jack 3-1-8, Alexis Taylor 3-1-7, Kiley May 5-6-18, Cassie Jakubick 0-0-0, Jordan Korinek 2-2-6, Lexie Handley 0-1-1, Amelia Motz 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 11-23: 42.
Three-point goals: West Branch 4 (Heath 2, Trimmer, Linhart), St. Vincent-St. Mary 3 (May 2, Jack).