ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The Harrison Central Huskies came into the season with the goal of playing for championships in February.
They accomplished that and took it a step further Saturday afternoon inside the Health and Physical Education Center at Ohio University.
For the first time in school history, the Lady Huskies can call themselves OVAC Girls Basketball Champions. Harrison Central reached the top of the Class 4A mountain thanks to a hard-earned 66-58 victory over defending champion Steubenville.
"I told the girls that this is one no one in Harrison County will ever forget," said Huskies head coach Nick Yourkovich. "I'll never forget the pure emotion on these girls' faces. I am just thrilled for these girls. This is just really special."
The Lady Huskies played their style to get to the championship. They defended, utilizing more zone than maybe Yourkovich had expected, shot the ball fairly well and got production from several people.
"This was the type of game we expected," Yourkovich continued. "Our girls gutted it out. We had some girls battling some minor injuries that didn't come off the floor."
Harrison Central’s Katie Ellzy (32) shoots over Steubenville’s Dominique Wilson (20) and Taylor Young on Saturday. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
The game featured 17 lead changes throughout the first three quarters, but the Lady Huskies grabbed the lead at 44-43 after three and basically didn't look back.
"We wanted to keep within striking distance and we thought if we could do that, our depth was in our favor," Yourkovich said.
Harrison Central fould itself with a 54-51 lead after Steubenville's Mytia Barker cashed two at the foul line. However, the Lady Huskies went on one of the runs they'd been using all season. They scored seven in a row.
The spurt was capped by senior sharpshooter Jesse Ledger. As Big Red was chasing trying to foul with the clock turning down toward a minute, Ledger got free on the wing and cashed in a bonus goal.
"That was the shot when everyone seemed to start to sense that it was our turn," Yourkovich said. "Jesse's been hitting shots the last month. She was struggling early on, but for the past month or so, she's really started to heat up."
Also big during the Lady Huskies' spurt was Steubenville played the last three minutes without its senior floor general Emiley Masloski, who was disqualified with fouls. She had a big first half, scoring 13 of her 16 in the opening 16 minutes.
"We drove home to the girls this week in practice that we had to know where Masloski was at all times," Yourkovich said. "She's a great player and we lost track of her in the first half and she made us pay."
Along with Ledger's production, Steubenville also had no answer for the penetration of guard Kara Dunfee, who Yourkovich thought could be an 'X' factor. She scored a game-high 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.
"We were focused on (Katie) Ellzy, but Dunfee really hurt us by driving the ball into the lane," said Steubenville head coach Phil Casinelli. "She got the basket, finished and then got to the line and made foul shots."
The Lady Huskies also iced the game away with a sharp 13-of-16 effort at the foul line in the fourth quarter.
"We're disappointed," Casinelli said. "We didn't want (the OVAC) season to end this way, but I am optmistic and we'll go back to work and get ready for the sectional. This just wasn't our day today."
Dunfee and Ledger, who scored 19 and 16, respectively, were complemented by junior Katie Ellzy's 14 points and seven rebounds. Shianne Nameth provided a big lift with 12 points.
Steubenville (19-2) was paced by Mytia Barker's 21 points. Lysiah Rice added 11 points.