By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
COVINGTON — Miami East girls basketball coach Bruce Vanover knew that no gimmes existed in the loaded Division III sectional tournament, even with his team earning the No. 5 seed.
“We didn’t have an easy game in this sectional draw,” he said. “Carlisle (the Vikings’ first-round game) had played Preble close, Preble had 17 wins and now West Liberty-Salem coming … winnable games, but games we would have to battle to win.”
So, playing on the same floor as one of her best games, senior Morgan Haney went to work.
Haney hit 10 of 15 shots from the field and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line as the Vikings slowly but surely pulled away from eighth-seeded Preble Shawnee, getting some separation in the third quarter and then sealing the win from the free throw line in the fourth in a 43-25 victory in the second round of the Division III sectional tournament Wednesday at Covington High School.
Haney scored a game-high 28 points to lead Miami East (17-7) into next week’s sectional final, where it will face second-seeded West Liberty-Salem, a 66-23 winner over Northridge in Wednesday’s early game. On Saturday, the Vikings also won a tough battle against No. 15 Carlisle, 47-40, to earn a shot the Preble Shawnee (17-7).
“This game went exactly like we said it would — we knew we’d have to grind, and we knew we’d have to play,” Vanover said. “We knew Preble Shawnee was a solid ballclub, 17-6 coming in, played everybody competitively.”
And after a 6-6 first quarter, the Arrows’ strategy was clear: slow the game down, not take shots and limit the Vikings’ possessions and Haney’s chances.
So Haney simply made the most of her chances.
“I wasn’t really worried,” Haney said. “They were taking their time and moving the ball, but we weren’t down, so we weren’t really in a rush. We were just patient and waited for them to turn the ball over so we could push it and pick up the momentum a little bit. We ended up doing that a couple times, and when they slowed it down, we were ready for it and stayed patient.”
With Preble Shawnee leading 10-8 early in the second, Haney casually pulled up and drilled a 3 to put the Vikings on top for the first time, then Haney stole the ball and fed Maria Staton for a fast-break finish to make it a three-point lead — and East would not trail again. Camryn Miller hit a pair of free throws to cap off the seven-point run, then a steal by Staton led to a transition layup by Haney to make the score 17-12, where it remained at halftime.
Haney had 11 points by halftime and then added seven more in the third quarter as the Vikings steadily began to pull away, leading 26-18 heading into the fourth. And while Haney, Staton and Miller were carrying the load on offense, Rori Hunley, Whitley and Cadence Gross and Emily Adkins were helping them shut down the Arrows’ attempts at counterattacks.
“Morgan obviously scored tremendously well, and I was really impressed with Rori Hunley’s defensive effort down on the low post,” Vanover said. “With their three guards, I knew I’d have to change some matchups, so I put Rori on their post player. And just the way she physically worked tonight to keep the ball out of the low post and keep the game on the perimeter, which was our goal … we knew they could shoot the 3 well, but we felt like if we could man up and limit those open spaces and their penetration, we could do a great job. And defensively, the team did a great job.”
“We knew they were quick and athletic,” Haney said. “We switch up our defense a lot, and we were so ready to get out and pressure the heck out of them tonight. We played great defense and then executed so well offensively when we did get steals and rebounds, pushed the ball so well, and we had girls finishing.”
For the game, the Vikings held Preble Shawnee to a mere 9 for 37 from the field (24 percent), while Miami East was 13 for 30 (43 percent). The Vikings were also only 2 for 2 from the free throw line going into the fourth quarter, but with the Arrows forced to foul to get the ball back, East was nearly flawless from the line, going 13 for 15 in the fourth alone and 15 for 17 (88 percent) on the night.
“The girls will like hearing that, because we shoot a lot of them,” Vanover said.
“A lot of our losses have come down to the wire, so free throws have been a huge part of our game, whether we win or lose,” Haney said. “We practice free throws so much. Sometimes we struggle, but tonight we really did well.”
It was Haney’s second such game on Covington’s floor — on Jan. 31, she was 13 for 19 from the field and 9 for 10 from the free throw line, scoring 38 points in the Vikings’ 66-57 win over the conference rival Buccaneers.
Staton also finished with 11 points and three assists and Miller had four points and six rebounds, helping the Vikings win the battle of the boards 23-21. East also forced 16 Preble Shawnee turnovers while committing 15.
Logan Hollon led the Arrows with 10 points, Nicole Sims had nine points, Jenna Lovely had three points and six rebounds and Cami Hollon had three points.
“We had to battle, and I like that. We hope with the work we do during the season with the teams we play in our non-conference schedule that we’re prepared for this. And the girls did a great job of being prepared for this,” Vanover said.
And now the Vikings will face their biggest battle yet, taking on West Liberty-Salem (21-3) in Monday’s sectional final at Covington. The Vikings lost 41-32 to the Tigers in the regular season back on Dec. 1, 2018.
Vanover knows that the Tigers are a different team than back then — but so are his Vikings.
“(Kelsey Day) was out in that game, and she adds a little different dimension. But we’ve played some really good teams this year,” Vanover said. “I think they were No. 10 in the state in the final poll, and that’s a great challenge for us. We played the No. 1 in D-IV really tough, so hopefully we can come out and match that and get the sectional title, which is our goal.”
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.