Tough defense and a big night from Erika Leichty helped lift the WACO girls’ basketball team to a 39-26 win over Holy Trinity Catholic in the first round of the Class 1A Region 4 tournament in Wayland on Tuesday night.
The Warriors improve to 8-14 on the season and play a regional quarterfinal game at Burlington Notre Dame on Tuesday. The Crusaders end the season with a record of 7-15.
Holy Trinity scored the first basket of last night’s game, but WACO got on the board with a bucket by Erika Leichty, who went on to pace WACO with a career-high 17 points.
“She had a great game,” Coach Shannon Rugg said. “We know if we can go to her and Aaliyah (Brown) inside, that’s what we want to do. And we knew we could go inside tonight.”
A free throw gave the Crusaders a 3-2 advantage, but the Warriors took the lead for good when Rosemary Skriver scored with four minutes left in the quarter. The Crusaders did come back to tie the score, but were unable to take a lead again in the game.
WACO had a 9-5 edge at the end of the first quarter, and a free throw by Aaliyah Brown gave WACO double the Crusaders’ score just 15 seconds into the second quarter. The Warriors went up by six, 17-11, on Brown’s putback with 3:30 left in the half.
That’s the biggest advantage the Warriors had before the break, as Holy Trinity chipped away at the lead, cutting it to just two at the buzzer, 19-17.
In the second half, the Crusaders again had the first basket, knotting the score at 19. However, that was all the damage they’d be able to do in the quarter, as WACO went on a 13-point run, capitalizing on Holy Trinity turnovers.
“We played down there earlier this season and knew that we could force some turnovers,” Rugg said. “We didn’t think we’d force (as many as we did), but they’re a young team; they might have had some nerves.”
WACO finished the third quarter with 10 unanswered points, and Jaelyn Unternahrer sank a 3-pointer for the only basket on either side in the first three minutes of the final quarter.
“We just executed, and got some easy shots,” Rugg said.
Holy Trinity broke the streak with five minutes left to play, making it 32-21 in favor of the Warriors.
But the WACO defense gave up just five more points in the game, and the offense took its time to find good shots, adding another seven points — all by Leichty — for the final score.
“I think the key to the game was slowing down enough to move the ball well and make good passes,” Unternahrer said. “We were able to play together. Some games, we haven’t been looking inside, and we needed to.”
Unternahrer had six points for the Warriors, second to Leichty on the night. Brown added five points. Leichty also had a team-high nine rebounds, while Jennie Greene grabbed seven boards. Jordan Rodgers, Halle Kissell and Brown pulled down four rebounds each.
Greene had six assists; Brown, Leichty and Unternahrer had three steals apiece. As a team, the Warriors had 12 thefts.
For all the WACO players, it was the last game of the season on their home court. For the three seniors — Skriver, Unternahrer and Rodgers — it was the last home game of their high school basketball career.
“I’m glad it was a win,” Unternahrer said. “I feel good about it. I’ve had a lot of fun this year with this team.”
WACO will travel to take on the Class 1A No. 3 Nikes at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
“We will enjoy this one tonight, and worry about Notre Dame tomorrow,” Rugg said. “We’ve scouted them, and we’re just going to try to hold them down — which no one’s been able to do this year.”
“Our goal is to go in with good thoughts,” Unternahrer added. “They’re pretty fast; we’ll have to slow down and play our game. We need to make smart choices and good passes.”