It was pretty simple, really. Win the game and you win the title outright. That’s just what the Lady Warriors did.
Hope Balling had 12 points and six steals as Tonawanda scored a 41-25 win over Alden to claim the ECIC Division IV championship, Tuesday inside the George H.Miller Gym.
Finishing with a league record of 12-2, the Lady Warriors (15-5 overall) have clinched their third league title under coach Jay Hall. The first two championships came in back-to-back years, 2012-14.
Had Alden (10-4) won the title would have been a three-way share with Alden, Tonawanda and Holland, who ended its season with a win over Lackawanna to finish 11-3.
But with the game on their floor the Warriors resolved that this was their title to win and nothing was going to stop them. No shared title. It was theirs for the taking.
“I did not want to lose, at all. No co-champs,” said Hope Balling. “I wanted to be (outright) champs.”
After a rather uninspiring loss at Cleveland-Hill on Dec.16, the second league game of the season, the last thing on the Lady Warriors minds was cutting down the net in their gym on Feb.14 to celebrate a league title. But as the season evolved so did they as a team.
“Our mentality definitely changed,” Balling added. “The first game, going into it we really didn’t know what to expect. But now we do and we expected to go hard every single day and be the best that we can be.”
Though it stung, that loss to Clev-Hill proved to be the catalyst that helped the Lady Warriors realize what their true strengths were as a team.
“That game we did not shoot well. So we talked and we said well, if we’re not going to be able to shoot then we gotta play great defense,” said coach Hall. “From that day forward we’ve been holding teams well under 40 points. So I think it was just mentally picking up our defense. Good defense in the best offense there is.”
Defense did become the Warriors strong suit as little by little their guards, led by Balling, created a pressure defense that gave opponents little time to create. But the biggest factors were 5-foot-9 Alicia Farrell and 6-foot-1 Haley Schoelerman, both seniors, who were absolutely relentless in the paint.
Farrell had 14 rebounds against Alden while Schoelerman pulled down another 15. Schoelerman, the program leader in block edshots, also had eight blocks on the night to give her 104 on the season and 294 for her career.
“Our defense is pretty strong, limiting their scoring, which is helping us a lot,” Alicia Farrell said. “So as long as we keep that up we should be pretty good.”
The magnitude of the game seemed to have taken its toll early on as both teams struggled to score. But once the Warriors found their touch they ran away with the game.
A pair of 3-pointers by Taylor Hollock (10 points) helped Tonawanda build a 17-8 lead in the second quarter and 23-10 lead at halftime.
“We all just wanted to have fun with each other. We wanted to smile,” Hollock said. “We actually put our minds into winning, from day one, in practice.”
Balling, who recently verbally committed to DI Canisius College for soccer, continued to show why she is a dual sport stud and a legit candidate for the Lady Warriors team MVP. With 2:10 left in the third Balling turned it over, but than raced back, stripped the from the girl who stole it from her, then drove in for the layup.
The Warriors will be off until Feb.23 when they will host a Section VI Class B-1 quarter final game.
Katie Hummel led Alden with six points. The Bulldogs will likely start open sectionals on Feb.21.
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