CHILLICOTHE — Circleville separated itself from Vinton County in the second quarter and kept the Vikings at bay in the second half on the way to winning a Division II Southeast District Championship 61-45 Wednesday night.
“We’ve been working for this so hard and we’ve been talking about it since Day 1,” Circleville senior Meghan Davis said. “It got cut off last year short and we wanted to make sure we came out and proved to everybody that we are the No. 1 team in the state.”
“These girls set their goals high,” Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski said. “We had four starters coming back and Jaylah (Captain) coming in from Teays (Valley). We felt like we were going to have a special year.
“They’re great kids and they get along with each other fine. It’s fun as a coach. It’s good to see the hard work really pay off tonight.”
The win improves the No. 1-ranked Tigers to 25-0 and sets them up for a regional semifinal Tuesday night in Zanesville.
“I think that we’ve worked really hard to get back to where we were from last year. It’s just an amazing feeling to be able to win it and be on the other side of it,” senior Brie Kendrick said after being on the losing side of last year’s district final against Sheridan. “Our hard work really paid off and we have a lot more to do.”
The Tigers had a 17-14 lead over Vinton County (19-6) after the first period before outscoring their opponent 16-4 in the second quarter.
Vinton County closed to within 10 points twice in the second half, but the Tigers responded with strong defense and timely scoring.
“I think that our team dynamic is amazing. We have great communication defensively. Offensively, we look for the open man. We don’t settle for easy, fast, quick shots, we look for the best shot,” Kendrick said. “I think that really helps us with our offense and our communication helps with our defense.”
“We’ve banked on our defense all year long. We take a lot of pride in it. It definitely showed tonight,” Kalinoski said.
They held Vinton County to 17-53 shooting from the field thanks, in part, to pulling out a 3-2 zone.
“I thought, early in the season, we’d be a team that would play some zone this year but really didn’t have to,” Kalinoski said. “We felt like we had the length to be pretty good in a zone.
“We put this in a few weeks ago not telling the girls why we were putting it in and we haven’t even played it until tonight. We had a couple breakdowns in it, but for the most part I felt like we were able to keep their shooters in front of us and still get a hand up on their shooters on the perimeter.”
The Tigers also dominated on both ends of the floor grabbing rebounds as they had a 41-24 advantage, with 14 coming on the offensive end.
“I think we have size and we have strength against them,” said Davis. “We lift all the time. I feel like we emphasize being strong and we use that to our advantage. We don’t know what everybody else does, but we know that we work hard to make sure that we can dominate the boards.”
Davis led the Tigers with 12 rebounds, seven in the third quarter, to go with 13 points.
“For me, personally, I had two fouls in the first quarter so I knew I needed to come out and definitely pick it up in the second half and finish what I couldn’t get done in the first half,” she said.
“That’s been a strength of ours all year long,” Kalinoski said. “So we really felt like we had to hammer the boards both offensively and defensively. Brie Kendrick (eight rebounds) — even our point guard did a nice job getting in on the boards early on and was able to keep the ball alive.”
Junior Kenzie McConnell led the Tigers with 20 points while Davis and Tori Bircher had 13 each and Captain added 12.
“Tori really struggled down the stretch with her shooting. She came in Saturday and put up 700 or 800 shots and came back on Sunday and put up another 400 or 500 shots and it paid off for her,” Kalinoski said. “She put the extra work in and, boy, did it pay off tonight.
“To get four in double figures with the way Brie was running the offense, we played very well offensively tonight.”
Junior Morgan Bentley led Vinton County with 16 points while sophomore Tegan Bartoe had 11 and sophomore Cameron Zinn had 10.
The Tigers will face the winner the Central District showdown between Whitehall-Yearling and Lakewood in Tuesday’s regional semifinal at Zanesville. The game is set to tip at 8 p.m.
“We took one game at a time and their focus was on that each and every game,” Kalinoski said. “Early in the season we didn’t want to be playing our best basketball. We wanted to be getting better each day and I think this group has done that.”