The Ohio University Eastern women's basketball team is two victories away from three-peating in the Ohio Regional Campus Conference Tournament.
The third-seeded Lady Panthers (18-7) advanced to their third consecutive Final Four by defeating No. 6 Wright State-Lake last weekend in Lancaster, 73-60, in quarterfinal action.
OUE will meet second-seeded Miami-Middletown (20-6) Saturday at 3 p.m. on the campus of Akron-Wayne College. The other semifinal pits top-seeded Miami-Hamilton against No. 4 OU-Lancaster. The championship game is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, also in Akron.
"We have been here before and that will help a little bit," eighth-year OUE head coach E.J. Schodzinski said. "I expect us to play loose and to have fun. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make it to Akron, and to be playing this weekend.
"Now that we are here, our goal is to play our best overall game of the season Saturday against Middletown. We are looking forward to the challenge."
The two squads met earlier this year with MUM claiming a 30-point blowout, 85-55, victory on Jan. 12.
"It was a competitive game for the first 25 minutes or so," Schodzinski recalled. "We trailed 37-27 at the half and cut the deficit to 37-31, but that was as close as we could get.
"Middletown will run athletes in and out in an attempt to wear us down," Schodzinski revealed. "That strategy proved to be successful in our first meeting, but I believe that we are better prepared this time around."
Miami-Middletown is paced by reigning ORCC Player of the Year Brianne Thornton who scored 28 points in that first contest.
"She is a power guard with range from the inside and outside," Schodzinski said. "She is a tough matchup for us because of her body type. She is a rugged outside-inside player with a scorer's mentality."
MUM also has a scoring threat in guard Megan Costa, who went for 26 in the prior meeting.
"She got our attention in that first game when she hit some deep threes," he added.
The Panthers are led by all-ORCC guard Alex Kuhn. The Monroe Central graduate averages a team-best 20.5 points a game, while also charting 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 steals. She is backed by Shadyside alum Kelsey Holloway, who scores at an 18.2 clip. She averages 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 steals a night.
The remainder of the starting lineup includes Beallsville's Julie Bilyeu (7.2 pts., 6.5 reb.), Shadyside's Sarah Neavin (7.5 pts., 5.2 reb.) and Union Local's Alexus Davis (5.6 pts., 4.5 reb.).
OUE's bench, which took a hit before the season, has been bolstered by the return of Natalie Perzanowski. The former St. John Central standout has averaged 6.8 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 steals since coming back.
"Natalie didn't play in that first meeting," Schodzinski noted. "She will definitely be a factor in this game. If she can negate Costa, our chances of winning go way up. Natalie will also be a steadying presence versus Miami's fullcourt pressure."
In addition to Perzanowski, the OUE bench also includes John Marshall's Hannah Gossett, Monroe Central's Casey Digity, Barnesville's Jessica Hunkler and former Martins Ferry standout, Shae Moreland.
Holloway was named the MVP of last season's Final Four when the Panthers rallied from 18 down in the semis to defeat OU Lancaster. They then went on to knock off Miami-Middletown, 79-62, in the finals on MUM's home floor.
Two years ago, former Beallsville standout Savannah Burke was the MVP when OUE needed overtime to best OU Lancaster, 81-80.
The Panthers had advanced to the finals with a 2-OT thriller over OSU-Newark, 86-83.
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