GALION — Willard beat Shelby at its own game Thursday night.
The second-seeded Crimson Flashes controlled the glass at both ends of the floor and limited the No. 3 Whippets to 11 of 37 shooting in a 45-34 win in the Division II district semifinals at Galion High School.
Willard (20-4) will play top seeded Bellevue for the district title at 7 p.m. Saturday at Galion. The Lady Red dispatched Tiffin Columbian 63-38 in Thursday’s early game.
Shelby finished the year at 22-3 with two of its three losses coming to Willard.
“They are an extremely strong rebounding team,” Shelby coach Natalie Lantz said. “When you’ve got four starters over 6-foot that’s a challenge.
“What hurt us the most tonight was our defense. That is something we’ve lived and died by all season.”
The Whippets trailed 13-9 after the first quarter, but were outscored 11-3 in the second and fell behind 24-12 at the break. Shelby went nearly six minutes before connecting on its first and only field goal of the quarter, an Emma Randall steal and layup with 2:01 to play in the half.
“Shelby has three solid kids inside in (Bailey) Walter, Randall and (Ciera) Gurney and our game plan was to control their bigs,” Willard coach John Dawson said. “Those girls are super rebounders and the key was to keep them off the boards. I thought we did a nice job of that.”
The Flashes continued to extend their advantage in the second half. Willard led 33-19 after three and 41-26 with 2:06 remaining after a Lydia Wiers layup with 2:06 before Shelby closes on a 8-4 run.
“If you are going to win championships, it’s about defense,” Dawson said. “We don’t consistently shoot the ball real well. We’re kind of up and down, but the thing that never falters is defense. We bring that every night.
“We really locked down. The kids did a good job of following the game plan and taking away their strengths.”
Wiers led the Whippets with 14 points. Cassidy Crawford added nine.
“Lydia is a four-year kid and at times she is passive. That’s her personality,” Dawson said. “Tonight I thought she took control a little bit like I want her to.”
Freshman Sophia Niese led Shelby with 11 points. Randall added seven, while senior Gurney and Walter had six and five, respectively.
“I’m extremely proud of our seniors and of our season,” Lantz said. “Twenty-two and three is nothing to bat your eye at. They set some records this year for Shelby High School.
“They’ve got a lot to be proud of.”