Johnstown coach Carl Dufford feels his team has played its best basketball over the last three weeks, and he can point to one key statistic.
“We’ve been averaging 20 assists, which means we’re really moving the ball and kicking things into gear,” he said. “If we get our inside-outside going, we can be pretty tough.”
He also said the Johnnies are playing better defensively. “We’re not doing as much reaching,” he said.
Dufford noted improved bench play from Kerrigan Williams and Maddi Lusk, to go with a potent starting lineup, has been a factor.
“They’ve come a long way and played some big minutes,” he said. “We wouldn’t have beaten Utica the second time without them.”
The third-seeded Johnnies face fifth-seeded Liberty Union at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Division III district semifinals at Worthington Christian Middle School.
The other semifinal at 8 p.m. sends fourth-seeded Fredericktown against No. 8 Bishop Ready, which upset second-seeded North Union 52-48 last Thursday.
“There are really five good teams in our bracket,” Dufford said.
He said conditioning will be a key as the tournament progresses.
“We’re going from a small floor to a big floor; they’ll be big floors the rest of the way through,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of running.”
Meshing without Jill
Jill Blacksten obviously left a huge double-double void when the 6-foot-2 sophomore was lost for the season with a foot injury. But Newark Catholic is starting to round into shape for its tournament run with a new-look lineup and players in different roles.
Senior Maggie Layman and sophomore Caitlin Andrews are seeing increased playing time and providing valuable minutes.
“We know everyone has to step up, try to work and get used to playing with each other,” senior Caroline Wollenburg said. “I think we’re playing pretty well together now. We still have a good team and want to go as far as we can.”
“I think we can still go all the way,” sophomore Ashleigh Parkinson said.
Coach Rob Smith noted that Newark struggled at first when Maggie Mitchell was lost, but has put things together.
“We have four games under our belts now (without Blacksten) and you can see us starting to click,” he said. “They’re smiling a little bit, and the fear is gone. We just have to take care of the ball, and take quality shots.”
The top-seeded Green Wave takes on fourth seed Gahanna Christian at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Division IV district semifinals at Lakewood, followed by third-seeded Shekinah Christian against No. 5 Ridgedale.
The Rockets ousted second seed Worthington Christian 37-36 last Thursday.
Newark using point Paige
It would seem Newark’s opponents can take a deep breath when 6-foot-4 senior Paige Cashin plays along the perimeter.
Instead, they get short of breath when Cashin starts passing. Cashin’s ability to connect with 6-2 sophomore Kym Royster proved to be unstoppable Wednesday, and it carried the Wildcats into the Division I district semifinals for the third straight year.
“We have a good chemistry,” Royster said. “It is nice to have someone taller on the court because she can see when I am open. She gives me good passes.”
Newark plays Upper Arlington at 8 p.m. Thursday at Bloom-Carroll. Reynoldsburg plays Olentangy Liberty in the first game. Newark beat Upper Arlington 38-35 on Jan. 26.
With Cashin playing in the high post, she constantly lobbed to Royster under the rim against the smaller Hilliard Davidson defenders during the Wildcats’ 58-56 second-round win. Cashin, who averages more than two assists per game, had seven.
Cashin, whose offense often has taken a backseat to her defense, added 19 points and 10 rebounds in support of Royster’s 27 points. Cashin only had four blocks because Davidson rarely challenged her in the paint.
“It was a huge effort for Paige. I couldn’t be more pleased,” Newark coach J.R. Shumate said. “She passes it with good touch. Paige and Kym are working that high-low very well.”
Kurt Snyder contributed to this report.