March 15, 2014.
West Holmes’ fans sure remember that date.
On that day, a Saturday, the West Holmes Lady Knights girls’ basketball team played in the Div. II state championship game.
After two losses in the state title game to Hathaway Brown the two previous seasons, the Lady Knights beat the up-and-coming Kettering Archbishop Knights 64-45.
The ultimate goal was reached.
In that game, Paiten Strother stroked some critical 3-pointers, Laina Snyder owned the paint and Emily Molnar displayed her leadership for the final time wearing the red, white and royal.
Nets were cut down, trophies were raised, thousands of photos were snapped and the entire town rallied in the auxiliary gym in The Schottenstien Center after the game to hug their favorite Lady Knight.
The 2013-14 season ended in the best possible way for the Lady Knights on that day. They won the state title with a perfect 29-0 record under the tutelage of head coach Lisa Patterson and did so in dominating fashion.
And they weren’t going anywhere. Much to the chagrin of the rest of Div. II.
West Holmes has too much grit, guts and moxie to just win a title and rest on results.
They went right back to work.
Three trips to state in a row wasn’t enough.
The Lady Knights made it four consecutive state appearances last year when they ended Maysville’s season for the third year in a row in the regional final. Each year the Panthers got a sniff of Columbus, the Lady Knights evaporated their hopes of a state berth. (Maysville didn’t make the regional tournament this season despite being ranked higher than West Holmes in the final AP poll)
Last year’s seniors Alex Brown, Alex Starr and Kennady Miller were the first players for any program in the history of the state to reach the state tournament four consecutive seasons.
The OHSAA basically was saving a page in the program for the Lady Knights at this point.
West Holmes lost in the semi-final game last year to the team they beat the season before, Alter.
Alter would be the eventually Div. II champion.
The loss to Alter didn’t overshadow the incredible achievement of four state appearances in a row.
And the Lady Knights’ loss to Columbus Eastmoor Academy in this year’s Div. II regional final game on March 4, 2016 at Zanesville High School doesn’t outweigh the incredible run and exciting ride West Holmes has taken its fans on the last five years.
On that 2014 state title team were a pair of sensational sophomores. One, Hannah Clark, who started that game against Alter when the Lady Knights hoisted the title trophy. The other, Brittleigh Macaulay.
The two carried the Lady Knights this season, as seniors, to the regional final game, where the four-year run ended with a 44-43 loss to Eastmoor.
Clark led the Lady Knights with 28 points; a big scoring night to end her career on.
Macaulay added seven, Sammie Hall poured in four (all free throws) and Kacie Leppla scored four. No other Lady Knights found the hoop.
Eastmoor got 19 points from their smooth senior Amani Burke. Burke, the sister of Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke, also had nine rebounds to lead the Warriors. In total, nine different Warriors scored baskets to West Holmes’ just four.
West Holmes fell behind 8-0 early to Eastmoor who were able to make some steals with its pressure that led to easy baskets.
Clark finally got the Lady Knights on the board with 3:13 to play in the first quarter that was followed by two baskets from Macaulay. Clark got another leaner in the lane to go to cut Eastmoor’s lead to 10-9 after one.
Coach Patterson said moving Clark to the point guard position helped the Lady Knights break the pressure and get back in the game.
“Hannah had to handle the point guard position after we fell behind,” said Patterson.
Kacie Leppla’s basket early in the second period gave the Lady Knights their first lead 13-12. Her pair of free throws with 21 seconds left in the second quarter gave West Holmes its biggest lead, 21-16 with a minute left in the second. Destiny Wooten got a lay-in to fall for the Warriors right before the halftime horn and West Holmes led 21-18 at the break.
In the third Burke dropped seven points on the Lady Knights, but West Holmes still led by six 31-25 when Clark hit a tough jumper with under a minute to go in the stanza.
The Warriors got four points in the last 30 seconds of the third to only trail the Lady Knights 31-29 after three. Burke got a pair of free throws and Olivia Whitlow-Moore banked home a runner late in the quarter to bring the Warriors back within two.
West Holmes then had its second stretch of the game where they were unable to get a shot to fall, thus relinquishing its lead.
“We took good shots,” said Patterson. “They just didn’t go. We struggled to put the ball in the hole. You have to have three and four scorers.”
With 4:05 left in the final period Mahogany Merritt’s basket gave Eastmoor a 36-35 lead, its first since the Warriors led 12-11 in the second quarter.
Eastmoor never gave back the lead and went 6-for-8 at the line in the game’s final 2:45.
Clark hit two heroic 3-pointers in the last minute from Steph Curry range, but West Holmes trailed by five and four points when she nailed them. The last shot she took as a Lady Knight went in making it just a one point loss.
“There are probably plenty of plays, one here or one there, that would have made a difference,” said Patterson. “When you lose by one point like that, you can’t look at just one of those plays.”
The loss finishes West Holmes’ season with a 24-3 record. Eastmoor is now 22-4 on the year and gets rewarded with its win over West Holmes by getting to play Alter in the Div. II state semifinal.
The Lady Knights have played with a target on their backs all season long. Eastmoor felt like they won the state title already by knocking off the perennial program, West Holmes. Coach Patterson said that’s a tribute to the success the program has had over the last five seasons.
“We should take it as an honor,” said Patterson. “It’s hard to realize tonight, but it’s truly an honor to have the success we have had while teams are striving to beat us.”
Making the regional final five times in a row will earn you that respect.
“Very few teams have had a chance to play in this game,” said Patterson. “These seniors have played in it every year. These kids can’t hang their heads. They’ve accomplished a lot this season.”
And the Lady Knights have accomplished a lot over the last five years.