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Shadyside girls are on the brink of D-IV state tourney

SHADYSIDE SENIOR Baylee Wach goes up for a shot during Thursday’s Division IV regional semifinal against Loudonville at Perry High School in Massillon. The Tigers are back in action with a trip to the state tournament on the line tonight.

SHADYSIDE — When you take a step back and really think about it’s almost unfathomable.

The Shadyside girls basketball team will play for the program’s fifth appearance in the Division IV State Tournament tonight when it treks back to Massillon Perry High School to tangle with McDonald. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Think about that! A win tonight sends the Tigers to their fifth ‘Final Four’ in program history and second time in three seasons.

Though that’s the ultimate reward for a victory, head coach Serge Gentile will not permit his squad to get caught looking ahead at any rewards.

“We continue to look at it for what it is,” Gentile said. “Everyone knows the ramifications. Obviously wins from here on out get people talking, lead to a new t-shirt, fire trucks are leading you in and out of town, so everyone is aware, but we want the kids to be focused on taking care of the attention to details and the things (during the game) that earn you those rewards.”

The Tigers, who took down previously undefeated Loudonville (70-57) in the semifinal, will now tangle with a McDonald squad, which rolled into the Elite 8 with a convincing 57-25 victory over Berlin Center Western Reserve.

“We had played two tough games with Western Reserve during the regular season,” McDonald head coach Tony Matisi, who is in his first year at the helm, said.

En route to the regional final, McDonald, which hasn’t appeared in the state tournament since playing for the 1991 state title, has yet to be significantly challenged. The Blue Devils have won their five tournament games by an average of 46 points a game. Their biggest victory came by 80 and their closest game was 22 against Newton Falls in the district final.

“I am excited about watching a good game,” Matisi said. “I think us and Shadyside match up so well that it’s going to be really fun.”

Though the tourney trail hasn’t been taxing, McDonald’s road to this game hasn’t been smooth. Due to COVID-19 issues in Trumbull County, McDonald had its entire season shut down for more than a month. The Blue Devils played a game in late November, but then were ordered to stop play until the calendar flipped to 2021.

“It was like starting all over again,” Matisi said. “We had to have workouts to get our kids back in shape and then we had to rebuild the non-conference portion of the schedule and it got to the point where we played anyone and everyone we could.”

Because of that, McDonald — like many teams across the Buckeye State — found itself playing more than NBA-like schedules. It was during the first two weeks back when the Blue Devils suffered their two losses to Beloit West Branch and Warren Harding.

Since then, McDonald has been full steam ahead both in terms of avoiding distractions and pauses as well as with its play on the court. Currently 17-2, McDonald has been racking up the victories en route to claiming the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference title.

However, Matisi, who was the head coach at Lowellville and saw his team eliminated by Shadyside during the Tigers’ 2011 run to the state tourney, knows his team is preparing for its stiffest test.

“I am little leery of trying some of the things we’ve done against other teams against Shadyside,” Matisi said. “We depend so much on doubling off the ball, but I am worried about that because I am not sure if we can leave some of those girls to go trap. We’ll probably have to play more straight up (defensively) and see where that takes us.”

The Tigers’ offensive balance has been a key to their success this season.

“We’ve shared the ball well all year,” Gentile said. “Playing with confidence is a huge part of that. All of our girls have been making plays.”

Though Matisi and McDonald clearly are spending their waking moments trying to figure out how they’re going to contain senior standouts Baylee Wach and Tory Hendershot, who went for 16 and 12, respectively against Loudonville, the Shadyside role players of junior Paige Gorby, sophomore Gentry Brown and senior Kamdyn Elerick. That trio combined for 42 points on Thursday.

On top of their scoring, Brown and Gorby are impressive rebounders, who play bigger than their heights.

In McDonald, Shadyside is preparing for a team that plays “in-your-face” half-court defense, according to Gentile.

“They play hard,” Gentile said. “They gave after you, pressure the ball and really try to make things difficult. We have to be strong with the ball.”

The Blue Devils are led by senior Molly Howard, who is signed to play for Division II Indiana of Pennsylvania next season. She’s averaging better than 18 points a game.

Junior Lucia Woodford is the point guard. She’s coming off a 17-point outburst in the regional semifinal. For the season, she scores eight points a game. Senior Sophia Costania is McDonald’s premier 3-point shooter. She scores upwards of 13 points a game.

Maddy Howard — twin sister of Molly — is a solid contributor at seven points a game. Taylor Tuchek — a senior guard — rounds out the starting lineup at eight points a game. Brooke Lewis is the Blue Devils’ top option off the bench.

“We’re going to have to be solid defensively again because Molly Howard is a really good player and they have some kids and pieces around here to complement her,” Gentile explained.

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