With a towering frontline, Newark Catholic is known for its 3-2 zone.
The Green Wave stuck with its signature defense, to a point, then pounced with man-to-man to finally put away pesky Shekinah Christian, 52-39, Saturday night in a Division IV girls district final at Lakewood.
The switch helped shut down Flames’ star Annie Rohrer, who lit up the zone for five 3-pointers and 23 points through three quarters, as third-seeded Shekinah (20-6) trailed just 38-34. But she only had two foul shots down the stretch and top-seeded NC (23-2) pulled away to its second straight district championship.
It will meet today’s Waterford-South Webster winner in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday at Pickerington North, after avenging a loss to Shekinah Christian in this past season’s Sweet 16.
“It surprised me when we went to the man; I like the 3-2 zone,” said lone senior starter Caroline Wollenburg, who led NC with 17 points, six rebounds and three steals. “But we have confidence in the man-to-man.”
“We maybe sat in the zone a little too long, but we saved our energy and they couldn’t get by us in the man-to-man,” coach Rob Smith said. “We knew we would go to the man, but just weren’t sure when. They weren’t ready for it. They were gassed. That’s a credit to our conditioning, too.”
With sophomores Caitlin Andrews and Jenna Bourne shadowing Rohrer, the Flames hit just 1-of-12 fourth-quarter shots. Wollenburg scored seven of her points at the end, and point guard Kelly Clapper added a steal and breakaway along with two free throws.
“I’ve always loved the man-to-man; it’s a really strong suit for Jenna and I, and since we’re not scorers, it’s our way to help the team win,” Andrews said.
Both teams were tentative in this past season’s regional semifinal, but that was not the case Saturday.
Rohrer hit two of her 3s early on as Shekinah jumped ahead 12-7, but Clapper and Wollenburg responded with back-to-back 3s for NC as the Green Wave led 14-12 early in the second and took a 26-21 halftime edge.
NC used its size advantage to own a 14-7 rebounding margin, off-setting the Flames’ 50 percent first-half shooting, and 6-foot-2 Jill Blacksten scored nine first-half points including a 3-pointer.
The game was tied at 32 late in the third quarter when 6-foot-2 Ashleigh Parkinson scored three straight baskets, giving the Green Wave a 38-32 lead it would not relinquish.
“Same as last year. We knew we had a height advantage and wanted to keep pounding it inside,” Smith said. “We did a much better job of executing this time. Our big girls came to play.”
Parkinson scored 13 points and had 13 rebounds, helping NC dominate the boards 26-16, and Blacksten also scored 13. Clapper handled Shekinah’s pressure throughout and contributed nine points, six assists and three steals.
The Green Wave were ready for the rematch.
“I was pumped and ready to go; (Shekinah) definitely brought the best out of me, that’s for sure,” Wollenburg said. “We were better prepared for them and a little more confident.”
“It’s good when we start out playing hard,” Andrews said. “The intensity seems to stay with us for the rest of the game.
“We came in and got revenge. They ended it for our seniors last year.”
After its 50-percent first half, Shekinah hit only 22 percent the second half and finished at 33 percent. NC made 53 percent of its second-half shots.