PENINSULA — Woodridge girls basketball’s seven seniors — Holly Howard, Anyah Parker, Aniyah Rashid, Kendra Kearns, Armani Artice, Emily Mally and Sophia DeBord — have been the backbone of the Bulldogs since coach Chris Nauer took over two seasons ago.
"I told them before the game, I was trying not to get emotional," Nauer said. "They are the leaders of this program. They embody everything you want as a coach. They give great effort and they’re great student-athletes."
There’s been a lot of rough nights for Nauer and his senior seven over the past two winters. On Senior Night for the Class of 2018, however, everything came together.
A 15-0 Woodridge run —which wrapped around the halftime break — turned a close contest into a Bulldog rout. The Bulldogs scored a 60-36 win over Akron Springfield Wednesday in the final girls baskertball at Woodridge’s current gymnasium.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season with record of 5-17 overall and 2-12 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division.
Woodridge’s defense was relentless, particularly in the second half, as Springfield was forced into 34 turnovers on the night. Fittingly, the Bulldogs’ seven seniors scored 58 of Woodridge’s 60 points.
"This is what we worked for all season," Nauer said. "This was the end result we’ve been seeking all season."
Neither team was lighting it up early, as Woodridge had some problems breaking down Springfield’s 2-3 zone.
While Springfield committed numerous turnovers in the first quarter, the Spartans’ 11 first-quarter points were the most they scored in any quarter of the game.
Woodridge led 12-11 after one quarter but found themselves down 21-19 after Springfield’s Madison Garner hit a pair of 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs got a lift off the bench from Howard, whose defense helped spark a 6-0 Woodridge run to end the half.
Howard had one of her best games of the season on both ends of the floor, finishing with 12 points, six rebounds and five steals. Howard was a constant irritant for the Spartans on defense.
Nauer’s plan for the second half was for Woodridge to turn the irritation level all the way up.
"My halftime message was we’re going to come out with everything we’ve got on defense," Nauer said. "We turned the press up. It was a special half."
Indeed. Woodridge exploded out of the locker room with a 9-0 run, which blew the game open. Springfield committed turnovers on its first four offensive possessions and Woodridge took advantage.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Rashid found her range, scoring eight of her 10 points in the third quarter.
While Springfield was able to stop the run when forward Rachel Rodenbucher converted an old-school three-point play, the Spartans offensive continuity fell apart.
Woodridge took a 48-30 lead after three quarters, having outscored the Spartans 23-9 in the third.
The Bulldogs kept the pressure up in the fourth quarter, never giving the Spartans a chance to mount a comeback. Springfield also lost its discipline late, as the Spartans bench was called for a technical foul in the last minute.
Woodridge’s 24-point margin of victory equalled its largest lead of the game.
DeBord led all scorers with 15 points, while Parker finished with eight points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs. No Spartan scored more than six points in the game.
The win followed a long night for the Bulldogs last Saturday when they hosted league-leading Norton. After trailing 8-7 after one quarter, the Bulldogs were overpowered by the Panthers, who ran off with a 57-16 win.
Woodridge committed 37 turnovers in the loss, as Norton’s pressure defense led to a lot of easy buckets.
Woodridge was set to open its Division II playoff run by taking on Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy Saturday at CVCA at 7 p.m. Nauer said he felt his team had a chance to avenge a 39-34 loss to the the Royals from earlier this season.
"I’m going to tell the girls to enjoy this tonight," Nauer said. "We’ve got two-and-a-half days to get ready for CVCA. This is how I want us to play heading into the playoffs."
If victorious, Woodridge will take on St. Vincent-St. Mary on the road next Thursday at 7 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC