Eagles fall in final minutes of regional tournament, 61-52

CUYAHOGA FALLS – This time was different.

United’s girls basketball team was mere minutes away from the realistic possibility of a trip to Columbus on Wednesday at the Cuyahoga Falls Div. III regional tournament.

The Eagles led by a point with less than three minutes to play before the No. 4 state-ranked Orrville Red Riders kicked it into high gear and finished United’s season off with a 61-52 victory.

“We knew whoever won this game was going to Columbus,” United coach Sam Mathias said. “There’s nothing standing in Orrville’s way now.”

Orrville will have to play No. 10-ranked Beachwood in the final on Saturday at Cuyahoga Falls High School. Beachwood beat a sub-.500 Mogadore team 53-48 in the first regional semifinal of the evening. Most observers agreed that United and Orrville were head and shoulders above the competition displayed in the first game.

Hannah Plybon, Orrville’s 2,000-point scorer who is headed to Akron in the fall, was held to 18 points by the Eagles’ defense.

“I knew I would really have to play well against a Div. I college player,” United senior Emily Zehentbauer said. “I have played against 1,000-point scorers before, but never a 2,000-point scorer.”

Zehentbauer capped her career with 20 points and nine rebounds. She scored nine of her total in the third quarter to keep the Eagles (24-3) within striking distance. Orrville (25-2) had built a nine-point lead coming out of the halftime break in the third quarter.

United had two slim leads in the fourth quarter, but Orrville had just enough to get over the finish line a winner.

“If we played 10 times, I think we’d split with them,” United junior guard Mackenzie Gatchel said.

Gatchel added 11 points and seven rebounds as she was the engine that drove the Eagles’ relentless offensive pressure up the court. The problem wasn’t turnovers or the unfamiliar atmosphere this time around. It was the shooting.

United missed its first 11 shots and ended up making only 30-percent of its shots from the field. Orrville shot 45 percent from the floor.

United was down 10-2 out of the gate before the nerves calmed and the game-plan took shape. The Eagles were down five at the half, but were right on the Red Riders’ heals.

“I looked at my assistant coach as we went into the fourth quarter and said this was much better than being down 15 heading into the fourth quarter like last year against Smithville,” Mathias said.

Orrville’s difference maker came in the form of senior pint-sized point guard Maggie Devault who led the team with 22 points.

Orrville coach Mark Alberts Sr., in his 38th and final year of coaching, said he did not expect United to play as well as they did.

“We scouted them against Campbell Memorial and watched them on DVD a few times,” Alberts said. “We did not think they were as good as they played tonight by watching those few games.”

Alberts has never been to the state tournament as a coach and United nearly sent him into retirement without fulfilling that dream.

“The key to advancing at this point is sometimes just surviving,” Alberts said. “I’m just glad were able to hold on.”

Mathias said it was the best game his team played all year. He said he knew the team would have to play its best game to have a chance.

“We went toe-to-toe with one of the highest ranked teams in the state in Div. III,” Mathias said. “I’m proud of everyone.”

United will graduate six seniors – Zehentbauer, Sam Spitler, Courtney Hydrick, Cassidy Yoder, Tara Gray and Mollie Phillis – so a lot depends on the younger, inexperienced players as to where the program will head in the future.

“I’m going to miss them,” the team’s lone junior with significant playing time Gatchel said. “We’re all so close. They’re like sisters to me.”

Zehentbauer said she had no regrets about her stellar career.

“I’m thankful to be a part of it,” Zehentbauer said. “It has been unreal. I’m not going to be sad that it’s over. I’m going to be happy because it happened.”

UNITED: 13-10-19-10 – 52

ORRVILLE: 15-13-15-18 – 61

UNITED SCORING: Emily Zehentbauer 7-4-20, Sam Spitler 4-0-10, Tara Gray 1-0-3, Sydney Moats 0-0-0, Mackenzie Gatchel 5-0-11, MacKenzie Firth 0-0-0, Mollie Phillis 1-0-2, Elle Smith 0-0-0, Courtney Hydrick 2-2-6, Jenna Plummer 0-0-0. TOTALS: 19-64, 6-8: 52.

ORRVILLE SCORING: Noel Hartmann 0-0-0, Kristina Workinger 0-0-0, Trinniti Hall 3-1-7, Maggie Devault 8-4-22, Brianne Adcock 2-0-4, Hannah Plybon 7-3-19, Abby Reusser 2-0-6, Shamaya Sims 1-0-2, Lauryn Wright 1-0-2. TOTALS: 24-53, 7-13: 61.

Three-pointers: United 8 (Zehentbauer 4, Spitler 2, Gray, Gatchel), Orrville 5 (Devault 2, Reusser 2, Plybon).