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Lady Tigers move on to play at St. John

LANCASTER - Trailing 9-1 with 2:33 left in the first quarter, the Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers had the West Muskingum Lady Tornadoes right where they wanted them.

For the fourth straight game, Ironton fell behind early and then stormed back to win as they whipped West Muskingum 54-41 Saturday to win the Division III regional championship.

"Being down 9-1 is nothing to our girls. We're used to being down," Ironton coach Amy Hughes said. "They tried to take Rudy (Andrea Rudmann) away from us and double teamed her. But you can't take just one or two people away and stop us. There's always someone else who steps it up. I think we had a different leading scorer in every game."

Rudmann had 29 points in the semifinal upset win over Jonathan Alder. Rudmann had 15 points against West Muskingum, but it was 6-foot-1 junior Sara Hacker who stepped into the spotlight this time.

Hacker scored a season-high 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

"I knew we could come back. We had more confidence after we hit a couple of shots. We knew we were still in it. It was too early in the game," Hacker said.

West Muskingum (22-4) was led by Jessica McKenzie with 17 points and Jessica Lenhart with 11.

"Our defense played great and Mandi (Boykin) did a great job on McKenzie. She got 32 against Oak Hill, but not on Ironton and not on Mandi Boykin," Hughes said.

"The key is holding a good player below their (scoring) average.

We held McKenzie under her average (25.2) and that's what we try to do. Any time you hold a team like West Muskingum to 41 points in the regional championship, you're playing good defense."

Ironton, 24-1, will now play South Euclid Regina at 3 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals at St. John Arena on the campus of Ohio State University.

It was Ironton's fourth regional appearance and the regional title puts the Lady Fighting Tigers in the state tournament for the second time. Their first state tournament appearance came in 1980 also at St. John Arena.

But a trip to Columbus didn't look good early in the first quarter as a steal and layup by Jennifer Diller put West Muskingum up 9-1 at the 2:33 mark.

The comeback began when Rudmann hit a 15-footer and Hacker followed with a layup and a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 9-8. A foul shot by Diller with less than a second to go in the quarter made it 10-8.

Momentum was on Ironton's side.

"We changed our defense. We made a couple of adjustments and Hacker picked a good game to get hot," Hughes said. "They were determined to go to the state tournament."

Mandi Boykin hit a 17-footer to start the second quarter, Rudmann knocked down a baseline jumper and Hacker drained a 3-pointer and suddenly Ironton was up 15-10 with 5:25 left in the half.

McKenzie stopped the run with a short jumper, but Ironton went on a 12-0 run to lead 27-12 with 1:55 left in the half.

The Lady Tornadoes got a basket inside from McKenzie to trail 29-17, but Hacker buried a trey just before the buzzer and the lead was 32-17 at the break.

"We were nervous at first, but we got our defense going and our defense gets our offense started. And then Hacker got hot and we got her the ball," Rudmann said.

McKenzie had just 6 points in the first half. Boykin said McKenzie was her toughest defensive assignment of the season.

"She was hard and she's really strong," Boykin said. "(McKenzie) kept pinning me behind her and I kept getting Rudy and (Sarah) Cartmell to help me out."

Cartmell said McKenzie was "real good and real strong. She was a lot stronger than I thought she would be. But we worked the whole season to get to the state tournament and we weren't about to quit."

A 12-footer by Hacker to start the second half made it a 15-point game, but West Muskingum kept battling and cut the spread to 39-27 after three quarters.

Ironton missed the front end of two straight one-and-one opportunities and committed two quick turnovers to ignite a West Muskingum rally.

Diller hit a 19-footer and McKenzie drove for 2 more as the Lady Tornadoes were down 43-37 with 3:29 to play.

But Hacker sank four foul shots and Rudmann two with 1:31 on the clock and the lead was 49-37. Boykin also made two foul shots with 34 seconds left and Jessica Waddle made a 10-footer with time winding down as Ironton secured the win.

W. Muskingum1071014=41

Ironton824715=54

WEST MUSKINGUM (22-4):

Ali Jones 0-6 0-0 2 0, Jennifer Diller 2-6 1-3 5, Jessica Lenhart 4-10 1-1 11, Jessica McKenzie 7-12 3-6 17, Biz Perry 1-4 0-0 3, Amanda Dobbins 0-0 0-0 0, Jacie Iden 0-0 0-0 0, Lacey Gutridge 0-5 0-3 0, Chelsea Settles 2-5 1-4

5. Totals: 16-48

5-13

41. Fouls: 20. Fouled out: 2 (Lenhart 4th 3:28, Jennifer Diller 4th 1:31). 3-point goals: 4-25 (Jones 0-5, Diller 0-1, Lenhart 2-7, Perry 1-3, Gutridge 0-5, Settles 1-4). Rebounds: 7-18=25 (McKenzie 11). Team/deadball rebounds: 3. Total rebounds: 28. Assists: 7 (Diller 2, Lenhart 2). Steals: 10 (Jones 3, Diller 2). Turnovers: 13. FG% – 33.3. FT% – 38.5. 3pt% – 16.

IRONTON (24-1):

Andrea Rudmann 5-14 4-5 15, Danielle Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Mandi Boykin 1-7 0-0 2-4 4, Sarah Cartmell 0-0 1-2 1, Sara Hacker 8-14 7-9 26, Ciara Taylor 2-4 0-0 4, Jessica Waddle 2-5

0-0 4. Totals: 18-44

15-20

54. Fouls: 13. Fouled out: None. 3-point goals: 4-9 (Rudmann 1-4, Hacker 3-5, Waddle 0-1). Rebounds: 11-26=31 (Hacker 15, Rudmann 5, Taylor 5). Team/deadball rebounds: 3. Total rebounds: 40. Assists: 9 (Hacker 3, Boykin 3). Steals 11 (Rudmann 3, Taylor 3. FG% – 40.9. FT% – 75. 3pt% –

44.4.