COLUMBUS: Twinsburg found its harmony on the big stage, and the Tigers will get to play for their third consecutive state title.
Seniors Ashley Morrissette, Brooke Smith, Char-dell Dunnigan and junior Baleigh Reid were right in tune Friday night, leading the Tigers to a 73-63 Division I state semifinal win over Lewis Center Olentangy Orange at Value City Arena.
All four reached double figures in scoring, shot well from the floor and played quality defense. Morrissette, who was recently named Ohio’s Ms. Basketball, was her usual self. Smith, Reid and Dunnigan are solid players in their own right but rarely do all four play at the same high level on the same night.
When asked if this is what she wants her team to look like, Twinsburg coach Julie Solis said: “Absolutely.”
“I was really proud of the way we played tonight,” Solis said. “Those four have been huge all year. With that said, it’s been one of those things where three might step up one night, or one might have a great offensive game. It was nice to see all four of them do great things on the offensive end.”
Morrissette scored a team-high 20 points and had seven rebounds and three assists. She was 5-of-14 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. Smith had 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, four rebounds and four steals.
Reid finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and had four rebounds and Dunnigan had 14 points and five rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. Those four had all but one of Twinsburg’s field goals.
Despite leading by 20 at one point in the second half, the Tigers were more thorough than they were dominant. The Tigers had an advantage in nearly every facet of the game as the lead was built.
At halftime, Twinsburg held slight advantages in rebounding (16-12) and turnovers (9-5) and had 12 second-chance points and 12 points off of turnovers.
“This is the big stage,” Solis said. “When you get on this stage, kids are nervous and tight, and I really thought we fought through that today. We came out pretty loose and hit some shots early and we hit the open person. That’s a tribute to team basketball.”
Twinsburg (29-0) led 41-29 at halftime and pushed it to 60-46 after three quarters.
Olentangy Orange came out hot, scoring the first five points of the third quarter, but Twinsburg answered and took control.
Olentangy (26-3) fought back, converting turnovers into transition 3-pointers. But it was too little, too late for the Pioneers. The Tigers’ lead was trimmed to seven points with less than a minute to go but Reid came up with a block with 40 seconds to go to end it.
Solis loved the effort to start the game but knows it wasn’t sustained. Part of that, she believes, was due to the weight of the situation.
“This team kind of makes me crazy sometimes — sometimes they think they won a little bit too early,” she said. “I just stayed on them and I kept yelling at them and reminding them that it’s not over. It’s not that we’re out of condition, it’s just a high emotion game, and that takes a little bit out of your conditioning.”
The Tigers had won their previous three games by a combined 12 points. Getting a couple of extra days off might have helped them come out strong on Friday night.
“It helped recharge our battery,” Morrissette said. “Especially since we couldn’t have possibly played two games in a row, and now we are going to play two games in a row. I think it was nice for us.”
Twinsburg will face Kettering Fairmont (26-1) in the state championship game at 8:30 tonight. Twinsburg has beaten Fairmont in the previous two title games.
“I’ve said this from Day One, and this is kind of my philosophy: we worry about ourselves and we’re going to prepare for the team that we have to play. We’re 29-0 for a reason and we’ll play anybody that steps on the court with us,” Solis said.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.